I first blogged about Ahab’s Wife (by Sena Jeter Naslund) back in 2002 just after I’d finished Moby Dick, and I was researching something on Spenser’s Faerie Queen … Una is the queen in Spenser and Spenser is Una’s maiden name …. in Ahab’s Wife. I’ve actually read the book, only in the last few weeks, helped by two “twelve hour sunset” westbound Atlantic crossings.
Contrary to the earlier review I quoted, there is in fact a great deal of Ahab in the book, not to mention The Pequod, its full complement of characters and not forgetting Queequeg’s coffin. And not just the style draws (deliberately) on Melville, but the subject of whaling – even the stench of the butchery, blood & blubber - figure prominently.
It’s a human story about people and nature, none too deep, and a high quota of deaths and disasters makes the drama seem overly contrived, written to a formula, but surprisingly hard to put down. It’s by a woman about a woman - menstrual cycles, needlework, shopping, baking, recipes … canibalism and whaling and sea and lighthouses, riverboats, and great lakes and fresnel lenses, and lots of reading, Austen, Emerson, Thoreau, (Henry) James, Margaret Fuller, racism, dwarfism, abolitionism, quakerism, unitarianism, universalism, investment, (earth) oil and the ubiquitous Greeks. 666 packed pages (definitely 666, not 668 per the earlier quoted review – there are 2 pages of personal acknowledgement after “finis” – was that contrived too ?).
… disappoints at the end,
because it doesn’t seem to have a reason
for having been written …
Well constructed, engrossing read, but none too deep as I said.
Oh and, the opening line …
“Captain Ahab was neither my first husband, nor my last.”
The third husband ? Spoiler in the comment added to the 2002 post.