Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: "Ahab's Wife" by Sena Jeter Naslund

It has been a long time since I cried because I didn't want to come to the end of a book.  I cried when I approached the end of this novel. I can't even begin to write a coherent review. All I want to do is bask in the afterglow of the lush language and magnificent characters.

I read Moby Dick in 1978, shortly after I graduated from college.  I felt that I was culturally deficient because I'd never read it in school. I remember sitting up half the night for several nights until I finished it. What an amazing and exciting adventure! But, it was written in that ponderous nineteenth century language with too much narrative, and Ahab seemed to me to be a more or less one-dimensional character: a nutcase, pure and simple, with no real context for his obsession. (I should read the book again at a later stage in life and reevaluate.)

I liked Naslund's  version of the story better than Melville's. Maybe that is because  was told from a woman's perspective. Maybe because Una and the characters who inhabit her world are so much more complex and fleshed out. And female. Even Ahab in this telling of the story is much more human and sympathetic, at least until he goes over the edge.

Naslund's prose, as in Adam and Eve, blows me away. I loved Adam and Eve, but this one was much better in many ways. The characters were more rounded out and believable.  The trajectory of the story followed Melville's original, but the emphasis was different.  The canvas was different.  Instead of centering the story on Ahab's search for the white whale, the story was about Una's physical and spiritual journey from the backwoods of Kentucky, to living at a lighthouse, to going to sea disguised as a cabin boy, to marriage to the infamous Ahab, to ....(well, I won't go there because I don't write "spoilers".

I think the thing I loved the most was her descriptions of the sea.  Una loves the sea the way I love the sea. The descriptions of the sounds, and the smells and the atmosphere at the seashore were spot on, in every detail.

This is a great read! I will read it again... and again.

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