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I have just finished reading Songs of the Humpback Whale and I must say I was quite relieved to have finally got to the end. I was about a quarter of the way through when I started to lose interest but it is a personal thing of mine that I never give up on a book however bad it is (even though I do skip read sometimes).
The book is about married couple Jane and Oliver Jones who have their difficulties and Jane eventually decides to leave him with their daughter Rebecca. Oliver is an expert in oceanography and is quite obsessed with anything to do with humpback whales which is partly the reason Jane left and explains the book title. Jane and Rebecca then proceed to drive across America to meet up with Jane's brother Joley.
Joley leaves letters with at various post offices on their journey which contain directions to the next point and also reminders of things which happened in their childhood. I do feel that the relationship between brother and sister is a bit too close and controlling from Joley's point of view. Some of the contents of his letters are very personal and they do give you an insight of some traumatic events which occurred in their childhood, however I wouldn't have thought that the right time to bring them up was in a letter which others could read including Jane's daughter Rebecca. I do find it a bit hard to believe that Joley would know exactly where and when the girls would be at the various locations to collect the next set of instructions.
Jane and Rebecca finally reach Joley in Massachusets where he is working in an orchard with friends Sam and Hadley who both go on to have an emotional involvement with the two girls. I won't go into any more details of this in case you do intend to read the book.
Each chapter is told by one of the characters but I feel that it frequently jumps from one to the other and I found it hard to get a good grip of the story. I also didn't get any emotion or feelings in Oliver's chapters as to me he didn't appear to be very enthusiastic about finding his wife and daughter.
As I said I did finish the book but it took me about a week and a half which is a long time for me. Usually I pick my books up at every opportunity even if it is to read a few pages, but I had to make an effort to read this and did skip read some of the pages in the last quarter. I have read quite a few books by Jodi Picoult and have enjoyed every one and felt as though I really knew the characters but I just couldn't get to grips with this one.
I loaned this book from the library and would definitely not read it again. You can pick it up from Ebay for 99p with £1.99 delivery and also from Amazon for £2.99 with free delivery.
This is a review of the 1992 book 'Songs of the Humpback Whale' by Jodi Picoult. My book is a 2009 reprint so features a different cover to the one pictured but it is still on the theme of apples, which is in-keeping with the content of the book.
A little about
This book is one of Picoult's early novels and I have read a lot of her books but not necessarily in the date order that they were written. In Songs of the Humpback Whale, Picoult has tried to narrate the chapters from the view point of the different characters and I think this results in a lot of repetition with not much extra insight into what is happening. The date line is also very mixed up with the ending revealed in the first half of the book so there is not really a build-up of suspense into what happens, just more of a reveal of how it came to happen.
The book follows couple Jane and Oliver who seem quite mismatched as man and wife and you wonder how their marriage has made it this far. Their daughter Rebecca is 15 and just starting to find her own way into the world. Jane and Oliver have a bust up so Jane makes her way 3000 miles across America to be with her brother Joley who works on an apple farm with Sam (the owner) and Hadley (another worker). The book plots Jane and Rebecca's journey across America with Oliver tracing their movements.
Why the humpback title?
Oliver's profession is studying the movements and patterns of whales, in particular the songs they sing to each other when in season and moving across the Ocean. His work spans many years and he is well known in his field. He has chosen whales over his family many times in their lifetime. Until now, Jane has put up with this but it is really starting to bother her when she finds he has moved her shoes out of her closet to store all his files and documents on whale research. Her shoes are now in the bathroom and it's the last straw!
Rebecca is an interesting character and makes out like she hates her father but really she loves him deep down despite him missing most of her birthdays because of his work with the whales. Jane has only ever been with Oliver and she is curious to find out what it would be like to be with another man. Sam, the handsome apple farmer seems cut out for this role and is more than happy to show Jane a good time. Joley is a lonely character who has spent most of his life looking for something but he doesn't seem to know what. He has finally settled on the apple farm creating a sort of magic on the dying trees and bringing them back to life. He is there for his sister when she needs him but he knows she won't listen to him. Oliver is a vague and calculating character who loves his work but also wants his wife and daughter back. Hadley, the other apple worker is interested in Rebecca but he knows she is too young for him really.
On the side
Rebecca is so precious to Jane and Oliver particularly because she survived a plane crash at the age of three. No-one knows why or how it happened but she walked away from the wreckage. Jane cannot forgive herself for letting her fly alone (under the supervision of an air hostess). It was this which brought Jane and Oliver back together 12 years ago after the original bust up. I am not sure what the plane crash is supposed to represent but it is something that Rebecca reflects on a lot and she knows she is lucky to be alive.
I thought this book was OK but wouldn't say I really enjoyed reading it. I think the order in which it was written made it interesting to piece together but it also ruined the ending. The different characters accounts were too similar to make it obvious who you were reading and it went over the same ground two and even three times sometimes. I liked Jane and Rebecca's road trip, trading in their truck for a convertible half way through their journey and finding cash in the car made it all a bit 'Thelma and Louise' in parts. Their shopping spree was also a happy event in the book. I still can't get my head around the way Olive chooses to involve the media in his search for wife and daughter. He rescues a trapped whale and then makes his appeal in the post rescue interviews but they are not missing, they are running away from him and how he thinks this will help win back Jane is beyond me.
There are 88 copies of this book (including my copy) on readitswapit so it is widely available. A brand new book is £4.31 on Amazon with used and new available from 1p so this book won't blow the bank!
I would say read this but don't expect to be blown away by it. If you enjoy other books by Picoult, you may find this a bit disappointing. The conundrum that is created in the book is not as complex as her usual storylines. I also found Jane's moment of striking out at Oliver seemed very out of character for her. The research on apple farming and humpback whales was adequate and conveyed enough information in the book for it to be realistic without overwhelming the rest of the plot. I was a little confused by all the age gaps between the people having relationships in the book, it seemed like a theme taken a little too far to me. I am glad that I have read it as I intend to eventually read all of Picoult's books but I do like to read other different things in between to have a break from her writing style and avoid plot confusions.
I've been reading Jody Picoult novels for some time now and have managed to get most of her books, either from the library or by buying new or second hand. The first book I read was Mercy, closely followed by Second Glance, Plain Truth until I have only her latest to read. One I found hard to get was this one, Songs of the Humpback Whale. In my imagination I thought it sounded very promising, she normally chooses her titles well, but whether this was true of this one remains to be seen. I borrowed this from the library and started to read it straight away. I've been reading some heavy stuff lately and thought I would find this easy going, unfortunately the reverse happened to me. For one of the first times I read a few chapters and then put it down. I only started to read on after reviewing several other novels, not knowing how I felt about this one.
Maybe I should say the plots instead, as I found this multilayered as if the author herself wasn't quite sure which strand of the plot was most appealing. Loosely put it's the story of a dysfunctional family held together by the strength of the wife and fractured by the same person. It could also be classed as a love story, a tale of an abused childhood, or a clashing of ideas.
Jane Jones is mother to 14-year-old Rebecca and wife to a prominent oceanographer, Oliver Jones. For most of her married life Jane has submerged her own needs in the marriage that keeps her feeling safe. She survived a childhood of family abuse and managed to keep her younger brother, Joley, safe from his own abuse by the father. But when Rebecca is approaching her fifteenth birthday and Oliver says he won't be around for the celebration, something snaps inside Jane and she walks out on her selfish husband taking her daughter, her car and precious little else in terms of clothes or money. Without a proper plan in mind, she decides to make the three thousand mile trip from California to her old home of Massachusetts where her brother is working in an orchard for a man called Sam Hansen.
The story is told in a very disjointed way by the six people who make up the story, Oliver, Jane, Rebecca, Joley, Sam and his assistant, Hadley. With Oliver, Jane and Joley the story starts at the beginning and runs forwards, with events happening in sequence. But Rebecca tells her part in reverse, so we get to know part of the ending before the story is properly begun. Naturally it does spoil the plot, though I imagine Jody Picoult thought it would work well this way. Going by the whales of the title, we learn that Oliver's field of study has led him to discover that whales actually sing, though their stories make change only marginally over long periods of time as newer whale colonies adapt to others and family songs are passed only through the males. Surely though, if that was the case then Jane and Rebecca's contributions would be invalid?
I found it very hard to follow, though as it is split into fairly short chapters it should have been easier. But I like my stories to flow naturally, with cause and effect rather than randomness. I don't mind reading something told in retrospect and I understood the importance of the family abuse unfolding slowly, but I still felt cheated in many ways.
I usually find Picoult does a marvelous job of breathing life into her characters and I can identify with them even though they are American. Also I expect to react to her characters in many different ways. The 'lure' of this book says this;
How can you save your daughter when you can't save yourself?
But Rebecca doesn't need saving from anyone, except perhaps herself. I found Jane to be rather wishy-washy, not someone I could feel that sorry for. True she had suffered childhood abuse, but she doesn't seem to have been affected that badly, though her safe marriage to Oliver suggests she uses him as a refuge from truly feeling anything.
Oliver is a selfish man, who puts his work before his wife and child, but otherwise he gives them a good home and they are not too neglected. Rebecca says in one chapter that she still loves her father. He has been around for several of her birthdays and I can't quite see how this one made any difference to her or Jane. I could have liked the character under different circumstances. He clearly loves his work and it isn't something you can do on a nine to five basis. He needs to follow his whales around and it's not a new thing in the marriage. I did find him arrogant in his insistence that he'd get his family back with no trouble. I also found him supercilious in his attitude to both his family and the men that enter the lives of Jane and Rebecca.
Rebecca stands out as the sensible one, though there is a time when her actions threaten the people who love her. The love interest comes from the characters of Sam and Hadley, friends who become split over Jane and Rebecca. Both are interesting and bulk up the story, but only Sam moved me occasionally, the rest of the time I felt little of any substance in the characters.
It was only Joley who really stood out with his gentle nature and uncomplicated love, though I did suspect his love for Jane was far from brotherly. Maybe I misread something in the writing, but I think the reader is meant to perceive him as the character that moves the narrative and, in turn, the final actions of all the characters.
This is one of those books I think of as 'character driven rather than plot-driven, so why didn't Picoult stick to her usual formula in grabbing the reader's attention and sympathy straight away?
In the final analysis I did enjoy the book, though I feel it's one of her weakest. With a littlie more effort this could have been a really good story. All the ingredients are there, I just felt that she was trying to be too clever and missed the target. Since this is one of her earliest books, but re-released, then perhaps she was finding her feet. One thing I will give away is look very carefully at one of the first few chapters and you might get a surprise. The ending appears to be unsatisfactory, but there again, maybe it wasn't?
Another thing that disappointed was the title of the book. I expected something along the lines of connection to the sea, whereas most of the action takes place either on the road or in the apple orchards that are so important to the men. I felt the strands of the orchard and strains of apples would have made a better comparison point, leaving me wondering if I was short-changed in my assessment of the plot.
I would have liked to give this four stars, but it's really a three and a half, so I have to mark it down. It's still a good read, but not one I would buy.
You can buy this at several online stores for various prices. I use Amazon as my base point and it sells here for £3+
As always, thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.
I am a big Jodi Picoult fan. I havn't gotten around to reading all of her books yet, but I am working my way through them all. Despite this being her first book I have only recently managed to get around to reading it.
~Brief outline of the story~
Jane Jones has lived in her husbands shadow for years. Oliver Jones is a major name in the field of oceanography and at this point in his life has a huge interest in humpback whales. He is often away from home for long periods of time tracking these marvellous creatures. After a disagreement about whether he was going to be home for his teenage daughter Rebecca's birthday Jane leaves taking Rebecca with her. They drive, mostly due to Rebecca's fear of flying. Jane's brother Joley guides them across the States taking them on a route that allows them to see various points of interest across the country. This complex route is also meant to make them harder to track - after all, Oliver is an expert in tracking whales, surely tracking his wife and daughter wouldn't be difficult?
Once they reach Joley the story develops further. Joley is a farm hand on an apple orchard owned by a 25 year old called Sam. Jane and Sam have a firey relationship, but fall for each other despite the 10 year age gap (Jane is 35). Rebecca falls for Hadley - another of the farm hands and also Sams best friend. Again there is a 10 year age gap, Rebecca being 15 and Hadley 25. The book discusses these relationships including to whether they are considered 'appropriate' by the other characters in the story.
I have left out major details and how it all concludes - to find them out you'll have to give the book a go.
I did enjoy the book, but not as much as I have enjoyed other books by Jodi. I have to say this is my least favourite out of the ones I've read. Saying that though, it is still worth a read.
The story is written from several characters perspectives - a typical Jodi style of writing. What I did find a little confusing to start with though is that Rebecca tells us the story in reverse. So essentially we know some of the major points from her before we've actually reached that part of the story in the other characters chapters. Once I had gotten used to this style of writing it made the reading of the book much easier.
I personally found the majority of characters easy enough to identify with. I have read other reviews stating the opposite of this. Personally I found that I could identify with the characters and how their relationships developed throughout the book, but not as well as I have been able to with her other novels. Rebecca's character was the one I found most interesting, and I did enjoy reading her chapters. Sometimes it was easy to forget that she is only 15 - a mature young lady. I also enjoyed Hadleys character and understanding his thoughts on the events that were happening in front of him. Jane was a pretty average character if I'm honest, as was Oliver. Sam's character at first comes across as a little bit of a bully in some respects, but as you get to know a bit more about him he becomes a much more likeable character. Joley was the only character I didn't really identify with at all throughout the book. I didn't know how to interpret his actions. At one point I was worried that this book was going to take a real 'brother in love with sister' twist. This is implied, but thankfully doesn't take over the main storylines of the book.
Overall I would say that this is a pretty average read. I would recommend giving it a go, but at the same time isn't a book I'm going to pick up again in a hurry. Certainly isn't one of Picoult's best, I think from reading it alone it is obvious that it is one of her earliest. I did find some aspects of it really interesting, such as the crossing America, and learning a little about some of the landmarks. I also enjoyed some of the key relationships between some of the main characters. The book does drag in some places though.
I bought my copy from a local charity shop, however Songs of the Humpback Whale is currently on Amazon for £4.99 with free delivery. Alternatively you can buy from other sellers on Amazon from £2.39 new and £0.01 used but delivery charges may apply.
I have read a few of Jodi Picoults books and when my friend offered to lend me Songs of the Humpback Whale I jumped at the chance, as I'd always liked Picoult's offerings. Inside the book I learned that this is Picoults first book, written when aged 25 and as she explained in the middle of the ages of the two main female characters.
The blurb includes 'The first time Jane Jones tried to leave her husband, her daughter almost got killed. This time she's going to do it right.' It also explains Jane was abused as a child and history is repeating itself.' I am going to try not to give too much away about the story as I feel I might kill its appeal for some people so if I sound a little cagey please forgive me, but it is such an indepth tale where revealing one thing can spoil another.
There are 6 main characters in this story:
Jane Jones - A woman in her late 30's (I imagine, I dont recall her actual age actually being revealed but from the story you realise she is about 39/40), married to Oliver and mother to Rebecca.
Oliver Jones - A marine biologist focused solely on the songs of humpback whales and their manner in which they live their lives, a few years older than his wife, and totally obsessed by his work.
Rebecca - 15 years old, the survivor of a plane crash when she was only 3 and growing up with two very distant parents, but her mother is extremely doting on her.
Joley - Jane's brother, he idolises his sister and becomes her saviour when she needs to escape.
Sam - The owner of an apple orchard, 25 years old and Joley's boss. His home is where Rebecca and Jane find themselves.
Hadley - Also 25, Sam's best friend and also works at the orchard alongside Joley and Sam.
This story is told through 5 different peoples voices - Jane, Rebecca, Oliver, Sam and Joley. Now whilst this does work well at times it really confused me, especially as it jumps back and forth in time. You really do need to concentrate and 'take in' what you are reading, otherwise you may find yourself struggling to peice the story together.
The story begins with a prologue from Rebecca explaining that she was in a plane crash when she was 3 and a half. You learn that her mother had left her father (he hit her we later learn), and taken her away to her grandparents house. Her father, Oliver, threatened to send the FBI if Jane didnt send Rebecca back home. So Jane put Rebecca on a flight back to her father under the care of the airline staff and it is during this flight the plane crashes into a field and Rebecca becomes one of only 5 survivors. There is a very important part here in the prologue that until skimming back through the book I only just realised the importance of - 'I am telling you the story of our trip because I am the only one who has really put it all together......; Me I see it going backwards, like a rewinding movie'. I never took notice of this really at first but now it makes sense as it bugged me all the way through the book why everyone else's story was following pretty much the same timeline, and Rebecca's was going backwards? (see above!)
We then meet Jane and Oliver, with some explanations on how they met, their jobs and basically how the really do not 'fit' together as a couple anymore. This much is screamingly obvious from the beginning and kind of gives an idea of where the story might go. We reach a part where the couple have a row, beginning over Oliver's insistance on taking part in research rather than being at home for his daughters 15th birthday. In the row Jane destroys some important things of Olivers, by accident, and some harsh words are said, and results in her hitting him. Jane was abused by her father as a child and was beaten, she panics that history is repeating itself and flee's to her car. Waiting for her, with a packed bag is Rebecca and thus begins a few thousand miles of travelling across America to get to her brother Joley.
Joley directs Jane across America in a very roundabout fashion, and this is for two reasons: so Jane and her daughter can view the sights and so Oliver would have trouble finding them. He does so via letter, and in each letter we learn a little more about Joley before we actually get to meet him in the book, and about his childhood with Jane. One thing in this book did disturb me. Joley doesnt love his sister in a sibling kind of way, its almost like he wants to be with his sister in a partner sense. Having read the recounts of the abuse and how Jane protected him from ever being hurt this is understandable to a point, but at times I was worried we were going to be taken on a journey of a mans sexual desire for his sister. This is very closely hinted at at times in the book and for me, was just too much. It wasnt needed to carry along with the story, it did a good enough job itself.
The beginning of the book is very, very slow as we learn about the first 3 characters, and as Joley and his letters are introduced. It was so slow that for one of very few occasions in my reading history I considered giving up on the book. I must add I'm very glad I didnt, but it was close! My main reason for this was as previously mentioned, Rebecca tells the story backwards, so one of the 'major' events is actually revealed very early on in the book, and takes away the surprise element. A few things are given away, however the way in which the book continues means that you still learn more and want to continue to see how such things came about.
Rebecca and her mother have some fun, some scary moments and a lot of learning about each other to handle during their trip. Although Rebecca is recounting backwards and Jane in 'real time' it does all fit together nicely in the end and you are able to peice together a lot of what was said.
About a third of the way in we are introduced to Sam and get the chance to learn about him and how he was left his orchard after his mother and father decided to leave for another state and that he has taken big risks to get it to where it is now. It is also explained how Sam is very much a country boy, the type that city girls look down on. We learn how Joley came to work on the farm and that he is aware of his sister and neice's imminent arrival, two people he has never met, but is happy to welcome into his home.
Oliver eventually picks up his pursiuit of his wife and daughter across America, abandoning his whale trip, although not without considering the other option first! He really is painted as a slack father and husband, and until this happens he really doesnt realise how well he has it. The character of Oliver does a very good job of showing how when one person in a relationship is too focused on their career they dont realise how easily they are pushing their family away. He does redeem himself with his chase across the country, although not without fault, and we learn he is in no way a perfect husband and that Jane did right in leaving him.
We go on a journey of love, hate, fear, abuse, idolisation and realisation through the pages of this story, and it continues its flow nicely as you near the end. Eventually we reach the crescendo of all 6 characters coming together in the book. Then we have heartbreak, death and forgiveness. The last third or so of the book had me gripped, I just wanted to know how what you learn from Rebecca is told from the other peoples points of views, how they felt about things and what they wanted or didnt want. Although at first I hated the time jumping, it actually makes the suspense more as you know whats coming, you just dont know how.
To be honest, I made my mind up about the people in the book pretty quick - Jane, boring and overly focused on her daughter stuck in a marriage she wasnt happy with because she didnt want to show giving up; Rebecca - Has it quite easy, although her father doesnt do enough, quite intelligent and knows her own mind; Oliver - Slack husband and slack father, too focused on work and doesnt deserve the women in his life; Sam - A good farmer, good sense of humour but too quick to judge people on where they are from or what they look like; Joley - weirdly in love with his sister and very strange guy. In the end though I warmed towards Jane a hell of a lot, and Sam too. I was not once comfortable with the character of Joley, he just weirded me out, but this is just my personal view after all!
In all honesty, until I reached about the halfway point in this book I truly wouldnt of recommended it. Now, having read it all I will honestly say it is a fabulously written book and that I can see the need for the slow build up of learning about each character from the start - this is very important to the rest of the story. It is a very indepth book and not a light read at all. There are things that happen that I haven't mentioned in my review on purpose, I dont want to spoil some of the things you learn as these make for the brilliance of the book.
Once again Jodi Picoult has impressed me!
Although my copy was lent to me it is currently retailing on Amazon for £4.29 new or from £1.48 used.
Before reading this book the only other Jodi Picoult book which I had read was My Sisters Keeper (see review) which I really enjoyed and so I had high hopes for this one.
My front cover is different from the one on the picture here it features a girl sitting in a yellow outfit holding an apple on a step the eyes and top of head are not shown. There is a caption on the front page 'You were hurt as a child. Now you fear for your daughter. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?' The back of the book has a brief discription of Jane Jones being abused as a child and now her husband is neglecting their daughter so Jane has to run away to save her daughter and herself.
Well all this made me think this was going to be a book of a women drying to escape domestic violence at the hands of a crazed man that sthe impression I got so I was quite suprised when the actual story turned out a little bit different.
Not I will try my best to explain without giving away the story. The book is written in chapters each focusing on a different character we have:
Rebecca soon to be 15, daughter of Jane and Oliver she and her mom leave Oliver at the start of the book in search of here Uncle. I found Rebeccas character to be likeable and one which any young person could relate to. Part of the story is about Rebecca surviving a plane crash as a child but then in the long run there didn't really seem much relevance to it.
Jane wife of Oliver after a fall out her and Rebecca head off to find Jane's brother Joley. Jane is a wife who is being ignored and to me it seemed like an attention seeking act to leave her husband and take of with there child, here again I was expecting there to be more to the reason behind why Jane was how she was. The book covers Jane's past where she has been abused and throughout the book a fear is built up about her husband following her.
Oliver is husband of Jane father of Rebecca he works with Whales and they have become his life so much so he misses family occasions likes birthdays to go off an study his whales. Now with Oliver I actually thought and this may sound bad he was actually a typical man putting himself before his own needs first and only realising what he had got once it was to late.
Joley is Jane's brother who works on an apple orchard he is in love with his sister and so does not have a partner of his own. His character I found to be a little strange and there did not really seem to be any need for the obsession with his sister I actually found some of the Joley chapters a little uncomfortable to read especially his letters to Jane as he is writing her across the country.
Sam is the 25 year old owner of the apple Orchard where Joley works he is hard working but has issues with girls like Jane from his past so they don't immediatley hit it off but soon become close. Sam's character had a best friend Hadley who actually played quite a big part in the story yet was not given his own chapters which I actually felt he could have done with. Hadley again is 25 like Sam and falls in love with Rebecca though you only learn of their relationship through the other characters in the book.
So there we are the main characters. Now the story itself leapt back and foreward thorough time as well as through characters and sometimes things were repeated through it which didn't really need to be. I like the journey of Jane and Rebecca and how there relationship grew. I did however find it frustrating that some of the story seemed to build up and I thought there would be a more dramatic ending than there was in the end I felt deflated I expected more.
This was however Jodi Picoult first book and I could tell the difference between this and My Sisters Keeper next up I am goin gto try Handle with Care and see how I find that one.
I will give this 3 stars it did hold my attention but only because I though there was going to be a more dramatic end to it.
Also found on other review sites under the same name.
I love Jodi Picoult. I love how she writes, and this book is one of my favourites.
It's about Jane and Oliver, and Jane is so frustrated she hits her husband and walks out, taking their fifteen year old daughter with her. The book chronicles both Jane's, Rebecca's and Oloiver's thoughs, as well as the characters who surround them and they become close (or distant from) during their journey to Joley, Jane's brother, and his job at Sam's orchard.
There are a few things I dislike about the book, and one is the constant jumping from character to character. THere is no sense of being able to "read" one character better than the others, and this ambiguity can lead to readers feeling alienated, as I did on my first reading of it. However, it is clearly a powerful message trying to be coneyed, but I don't think it is pulled off to the same extent as in My Sister's Keeper, or The Pact.
I would reccommend the book if you are a fan of Jodi Picoult and used to her style, but some of the later books can become formulaic, and I think this an example of some of her later books
As a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's novels I decided to check out Song's of the humpback whale, mainly drawn to this as the next choice due to it's strange title. Which thankfully does become clear as your read the book.
Songs of the humpback whale is the story of Jane and Oliver Jones, their fifteeen year old daughter and a journey that makes them think about their lives and what really is important.
The book begins with a look at life in the Jones family, Oliver who is rarely around due to his job as a marine biologist who is studying the songs of humpback whales (hence the book title), Jane who is feeling frustrated at always being the one their for her daughter without her husband's support and Rebecca a teenager who just wishes her parents could be like any others and actually be around more, but who for her mothers sake pretends it's ok her father misses all of her birthdays.
One day Jane finally reaches the end of her tether with her husband and his whale watching when she enters her cupboard looking for shoes and finds her shoeboxes gone and replaced with boxes full of whale paraphenalia, maps, charts and tapes of the songs Oliver seems to think are more important than his own family. This brings the issues she has been trying to hide to a climax which eventually lead to Jane and her daughter Rebecca leaving the family home to travel across America in search of Jane's devoted brother Joely.
Joely guides the two across America with letters left at post offices in various towns on route, with little snippets of stories from their childhood, and pieces of advice. The journey ends in a large orchard in Massachusets where Joely is living and working with two men who have become his friends Sam and Hadley, they are all living in The Big House on the orchard happily and without drama until the arrival of Joleys sister and his neice which throws the whole place out of sync.
A blossoming romance between fifteen year old Rebecca and twenty five year old Hadley has people worried, but Jane seems not to notice as she too is wrapped up in something resembling an attraction with Orchard owner Sam.
The story is told from the perspective of each of the stories characters, the main parts being Jane and Rebecca although closer to the end of the story you do get a few chapters written in Sam's voice which bring a nice change. Also in the book are the letters from Joley written to guide his sister and niece to him, which with their little bits of the past help us piece together the history of main character Jane and some of the sad memories that make her the way she is.
Although I enjoyed Songs of the humpback whale is it probably my least favourite of my Picoult collection so far. I found the jumping between characters a little too confusing for my liking, especially when they are sometimes retelling a section of the story, it did make me want to skip small pieces although of course I didn't, I can see why other readers might be tempted.
I loved the character of Sam and his relationship with Jane, I found the two strong characters came across well together from their initial hatred and anger towards each other to the possibility of a budding friendship and romance. It reminded me in part of when guys and girls teased each other at school while secretly liking them.
The relationship and love between Joley and Jane I found slightly disturbing, with Joley being a little too over protective of his older sister. Especially when he talks of his feelings of giving her away to Oliver and how he couldn't have her for himself. Definately an interesting look at the sibling bond.
I have to admit to shedding a tear at the end of this book, it really makes you think about love and if you have ever lost someone you love or had to give up on someone who has given up on you it really pulls at the hear strings. Remember that summer holiday romance when you said goodbye, think about it!
I have read many of Jodi Picoult's books and this is one of the better ones as I have found that some of her later books are a bit formulaic. This book is not new but was written before My Sister's Keeper made the author so popular, and I felt that it was more original (and maybe a little less rushed under publisher pressure!!) than some of her more recent efforts.
As you would expect with a Picoult book this is a real page turner and I couldn't put it down. The story has several narrators and I really could identify with both the mother and daughter although some of the other characters, such as the father and brother, were much less developped. The subject matter is not as serious as some of her other books but nevertheless I found that this book did make me think and challenge my views.
Overall, and excellent read.
Thank goodness I've finished this book!
It looked so promising too - the strapline on the front cover reads, 'You were hurt as a child. Now you fear for your daughter. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?' As a reader, you feel the book may challenge you - make you want to question your own judgement - but - guess what - it doesn't!
In essence, this is a roadtrip tale of a mother and daughter. Jane is fleeing her 'abusive' husband (and her own capacity for being abusive) by travelling across America heading towards Massachusets. This is where her brother (who is 4 yrs her junior and very close to) lives, working on an apple orchard. He sends her directions to the orchard by an indirect route - thereby seeking to elude Jane's husband, Oliver, who they know will be following hot on their heels. Their journey takes them on a spot of sightseeing with some low key adventure (such as a run off from a cafe).
Oliver's job is tracking humpback whales and this engrosses him completely. He is a scientist geek who seems to just want his wife and daughter there as wallpaper.
Rebecca is one of very few survivors of a plane crash which happened when she was three. This event is one which is meant to have significance in the narrative.
Once Jane and Rebecca reach the orchard, events take a surprising turn for them both - and this moves the book towards its climax.
The narrative follows five characters telling the same story from their point of view. Rebecca, the 15yr old daughter begins the tale - but she tells her side of it backwards whilst the other characters follow the linear sequence. The character's justification for this is just that this is the way she sees it. I do not think this works well in this tale as it makes the story confusing in the start. I was trying to work out which direction they were travelling - and I did not connect with the characters so it was overly hard work. In addition to this, the method played with the structure of a good story - and ruined it.
Apart from Jane and Oliver who are husband and wife and Rebecca, their daughter, the tale is narrated by Joley, Jane's brother and Sam, the owner of the orchard - who is also Joley's friend as well as his boss. There is also another character who does not narrate and this is Hadley, another worker on the orchard.
The problem with all of these characters is that I did not care about any of them one jot. I had a problem connecting at the book's start. With other books I have read, this problem rectifies itself as you begin to empathise with the character/s but, unfortunately, with this book, it did not. Of all the characters, perhaps Rebecca, the 15 year old girl, made a slightly bigger impact - but only because of a few scanty insights into her and her mother's changing relationship.
You see, I should, in theory, appreciate the very essence of the book. I am a mother who is dealing with my own interesting and changing relationship with my daughter. I am having to look over old behaviours that have been grown out of and replace with new, more meaningful and useful ones. This is not as easy as it seems because some habits are hard to grow out of and, when you are looking at someone everyday, you don't pick up on their changes easily. This is smack bang where this book is placed - and yet these ideas are underdeveloped.
Jodi Picoult was just 25 when she wrote this, her first novel, and maybe this gives some insight into why the book fails to touch me when it should have done. I think it must be incredibly difficult to write things from a mother's perspective when you have not experienced the complex emotions that evolve over the period of motherhood. I seem to be on a steep learning curve at the moment - and I have had years of experience! All of her early characters, and not just the mother, needed to be fuller, to feel their emotions more vividly in order to make a reader develop any sort of empathy.
Relationships - is a key theme of this novel: mother child relationship (played out in snippets from Jane's childhood experiences with an abusive father as well as both Jane and Oliver's relationship with Rebecca), sibling relationship (Jane's close - almost incestuous relationship with her brother), romantic love (the various forms - eg companionship v soulmate) and the validity of that love.
Abuse - is flagged up as a key theme but I think, in reality, it is not so hugely important as the new reader is made to believe. The idea that abuse is repeated through generations is merely played with in this novel. It is the excuse with which Jane runs off from the marital home, taking her daughter with her. Jane's husband, Oliver, has hit her once in the past (never excusable in my eyes) and Jane strikes him just before she leaves and is shocked at ther own behaviour. However, Jane's husband's abuse is primarily the crime of neglect and selfishness. This seems to me to be quite a commonplace fault in relationships - and not so remarkable as Picout makes it. A reader with a wealth of life experience knows that this is often a prelude to finding some other romantic interest for one or both of the couple. Running away is a rather tired response.
Survival/Healing - There is a hint of miracle in this narrative. Picoult often uses this kind of narrative magic in her work. Three year old Rebecca has walked away from a plane crash and this is meaningful in itself. Later, Jane heals some of her daughter's wounds just by touching her. The healing and restorative nature of deep love is explored and also the opposite force of death - and how sometimes love cannot prevent it.
Much of the action in this book takes place in an apple orchard and I have pondered the significance of this. Fruit is often used to signify fertility and plenty and the novel looks at the way time and age have an impact on love. Both mother and daughter are at the point of their lives where both are fertile and attractive females together and they are placed in a modern Garden of Eden complete with luscious temptations. The orchard is seen as a restorative idyll (a place where Jane and her daughter can heal after the trauma of their lives and the literal and metaphorical journey taken to arrive there) - until temptations are succomed to.
One word - predictable. The actual climax of the book takes place just before the middle (due to the fact that Rebecca tells her story backwards) so the end of the book is rather flat. I get a feeling of grey dread as I come to understand that the narrative was going to take a moralistically predictable turn; fun in the Garden of Eden can not be allowed to go unpunished. Where is the magic in this idea?
Would I recommend the book?
To a Jodi Picoult fan I would say - definately. I think is good to look at a writer's early work as well as their most successful. If you have never picked up a Picoult book, I would advise you not to pick this one. If you do, you'll never read another of her books. It is a crushing disappointment to look forward to a cracking read - and then find a crap one instead.
The book took me so long to finish. I had to make myself read a couple of chapters every morning in order to get it done. Waiting for a tyre replacement also forced me to get a chunk of it out of the way.
As for the novel's title, I think the actual communication of whales had little meaning in this book other than the issues of communication between lovers and a bit of human tracking and one 'trapped' whale that appears later on in the book. Oliver could have been a twitcher and the novel remain relatively unchanged.
Overall, I found it a weak and unsatisfying read.
I've got mixed feelings about Jodi Picoult's books, they tend to be formulaic and sensationalistic but they are normally real page turners, the type of book that you don't want to put down. The latest of her blockbusters to hit the UK shelves is "Songs Of The Humpback Whale" which is not a new book, it is her first novel which has been reprinted for the UK market following her success and it's a bit of a disappointment compared to her later books.
Like many of her other books it has several narrators. Jane, the main character, has left her husband Oliver and taken her teenage daughter Rebecca with her. She is being lead across the United States in a criss cross fashion, her journey being directed by her brother Joley. She is heading towards Massachusetts where Joley works in an apple orchard owned by Sam. Each of those characters tells their own version of the story throughout the book giving five sides to the story.
Jane suffered an abusive childhood and during those years she supported her younger brother Joley and now it is his turn to provide guidance and support to his childhood protector. They both know that Oliver will try and track his wife and child down so the route they take must be off the main roads and Joley also directs Jane to places of interest along the way. Joley communicates with Jane via a series of letters which she collects from post offices along the route, as well as giving directions the letters talk about the pairs childhood.
The problem with this book is that the story is much weaker than many of the other Picoult books I have read. Picoult tends to tackle controversial subjects like rape, the death penalty or heart transplants in her writing and this book is supposed to be centred around the effects of abuse but falls flat. Jane is said to be fleeing an abusive marriage but in reality Oliver is just inattentive rather than bad.
Because there were so many characters emerging speaking throughout the book I don't feel like I got to know any of the people in the story except for Jane with the other characters being a bit stereotyped. I could identify with her in some ways, it was easy to see how she felt trapped in a marriage that had stopped making her happy yet wanted to provide a happy family environment for her child. Some of the letters from Joley and reflections on their childhood were very moving and I felt a real sympathy for Jane for what she had went through.
Oliver is a scientist who tracks humpback whales for a living and now he devotes his time to tracking his wife and child cross country. He suspects that they are heading towards his brother in law but he wants to intercept them before they get there. Jane has left him once before which resulted in Rebecca almost losing her life in a plane crash, can he convince his family to come back to him again?
Four of the characters told their stories in a chronological order but Rebecca told her story backwards. Not only was this confusing for the first half or so or the book but it meant that the end of the story was revealed through Rebecca's eyes around a third of the way through the book. The ending would have been a real shocker if it had not revealed so early into the book and it meant that the rest of the book was a bit of an anti climax. The relationship between mother and daughter is a close one and it is moving to see Jane's reaction to her daughter's transition between childhood and womanhood and compare it to her own experiences.
I found reading "Songs Of The Humpback Whale" was really hard work at times and it took me a couple of weeks to plod through it. I found the story was paced really slowly most of the time with only a few sections of the book which had me gripped and wanting to know more. It was interesting to see Picoults early writing style, in some ways the book was better than some of her newer novels as it was not cluttered with the many sub plots that characterise her later writing, I think I would prefer a writing style which was somewhere in between her first and later books.
If you are looking for a real page turner here you will be disappointed but "Songs Of The Humpback Whale" is still a fairly good and sometimes moving read.
This has to rank as one of the worst Jodi Picoult books that I have read, that is in part testament to the fact that the quality of her work is usually very hgh, this is by a long way not the worst ook I have ever read in fact it is better than most, just that it is not good for her. Also this is an early piece of work for her and so can be seen as part of her development as a writer on the path to what she is now. Having said all that maybe this one was best left unpublished as bringing it out does seem to be an attempt to cash in on her current popularity and fame.
The two main characters are Jane a 35 year old mother to 15 year old daughter Rebecca. After the mother has walked out on her husband and the father to her daughter she flees to America to visit her brother Joley. One of the problems with this book is that really not enough happens and as such I never really made a connection with the main characters in it at all.
The story does not flow along as a good Picoult book does and as such I found it to be rather disappointing and very flat. It certainly was not much of a page turner and I found it to be slow work gettig to the end. One best left on the shelves or at the very least borrowed from the library rather than purchasing.
What another brilliant read from a brilliant author.
This was my second book from Jodi and it didn't let me down.
It captured me right from the start where after the first couple of chapters you realise there are a few main characters who include Jane, Rebecca, Oliver,and Uncle Joley.
Jane leaves with her daughter Rebecca after an argument with her husband Oliver and contacts her brother Joley who directs them to the apple farm he is working at by letters which he has sent to towns across America.
The story unravels as you get into the book and you see it from all their eyes, how Janes abusive childhood leaves her unsure of things and how her brother Joley feels the need to look after her now she needs help.
It left me not wanting to put the book down and had me in tears on occasions. Fantastic read!!!!
I recently read in a magazine about "cringe fests"; apparently in New York on the comedy scene there is a fad for reading aloud your teenage angst diary to an audience, for the comic effect. I am not suggesting that this, Jodi Picoult's first book, now reprinted after her recent successes in the UK is a cringe fest at all, but it is certainly a bit of a blast from a Picoult past, and for me it was one Picoult book that I could have done without reading. This is a bit disappointing as I have really enjoyed many of her books and found them inspiring, shocking, compelling and a good read. This book wasn't quite the Picoult fest I was expecting.
Jodi herself has written a foreword to the book saying that she was 25 when she wrote this book, and she wondered how she had been able to imagine being a 35 year old woman when she hadn't experienced it yet.
Though I did find the characters quite believable in this book, from Jane , the 35 year old in question to her 15 year old daughter Jane, I didn't quite care about them in the way that I have become involved in the characters in other books, so maybe the author didn't succeed in her projection as well as she believes.
The story was interesting, potentially, Jane flees the marital home with her daughter, as caught in an emotionally dead marriage that verges on the abusive. She crosses America in a roundabout way to see her brother, Joley, and directed by his letters that are left along the way. The story takes place in 1990, whilst these days Jane and her brother would probably "tweet" or text their way through the narration if realism were key,; I didn't find that in itself too much of a hindrance to the story. The multiple narrator technique that Jodie employs here, that she came to use in later books again to good effect does work, but the problem I had with the book I think was the non-linear form the story took.
Apart from one big and fairly shocking event not much happens really, the main interest being in a "will she? won't she?" question about the main character leaving her husband. He is a marine biologist called Oliver, who is rather obsessed by whales, hence the title, and unaware of much else that might be going on with his wife or daughter. The fact is that by page 59 you pretty well know what will happen in the end. Probably the interest is finding out how the characters got to where they did in the end, but even with a hint of "coming to age" teenage love, the crush Rebecca has on Hadley, a farm hand, who is ten years her senior, and so "unsuitable" and some other romantic interest thrown in, I don't think I was that fascinated. All I know is that this book took me a longer than average time to finish. Normally I read every night before going to sleep and with any other Picoult book I would probably find myself reading it for longer than I should and getting caught up in the story. I am quite a prolific reader. With this book I found myself switching the light of earlier than normal, and I am afraid to say I did actually think "phew" when the book was finished. I certainly won't be reading it again.
Even some meatier issues thrown into this book, such as abuse by a father and the effect on a woman as an adult, and a very convincing sibling relationship couldn't manage to keep me enthralled. There were a few mother - daughter on an American road trip incidents that were quite reminiscent of "Thelma and Louise", and these broke up the book a little, but I am afraid to say that overall I was disappointed by this book.
Jodi's foreword includes a cheery "I'm thrilled that Songs of the Humpback Whale is coming out in the UK market, and I hope you all get a chance to enjoy it!", but I am afraid I just saw the re-edition of this book, having read it, as a bit of a money making exercise. Picoult is currently the best selling female author in the UK I believe, so I don't know why she would need the extra sales, if you are a fan already you won't need telling to read a later work such as "Salem Falls" or "Ninteen Minutes" in preference to this. I suppose because some of the later books she has written are so good maybe I did find this first work not as wonderful as I was expecting. I picked it up thinking "great a new Jodi Picoult I haven't read!", but was left wishing I hadn't bothered with this book, I will, no doubt read new titles from her in the future but this has rather taken the shine off this author for me. A pity.
I think it is fair to say that my teenage diary efforts are best left unread to the world, and though some may enjoy this book, perhaps the Picoult PR machine should have focused their efforts on the fantastic work she produces now, rather than dragging out this book from her past - it does let you see how she has developped but on its own merits for me it is just not that good.
Jodi Picoults earlier work, which has been released in the UK in paperback and hardback, following on from her success with the film adaptation of My Sister's Keeper.
Rebecca and her Mum, Jane, are on the run from her father, Oliver, who became vulgar and abusive toward Jane in their last encounter. They are being guided across America by Jane's brother Joley, who writes them letters that they pick up at the post office, with random recollections of their childhood, along with directions to the next town. When they arrive at the Apple Farm where Joley works, Jane meets Sam and Rebecca meets Hadley. Love blossoms, and the story explores how love develops with an age gap of 10 years, with a Mother and her secret lover, with a 15 year old and a man no one approves of. It is incredibly varied in subject matter and character development, as most of Jodi Picoult's books are; but as normal, it centres around a traumatic series of events which sadden and provoke the reader.
In the introduction, Jodi describes how she felt when she re-read the book after many years. She says that she is surprised by her ability at a young age to write both from a Mother's (in her 40s) point of view, alongside a child of 15's perception of events. I agree with her it is hard, and I had hard time convincing myself that at 15 you could feel the emotions and understand the concepts that Rebecca experiences. I couldn't. But I suppose people vary, I just struggled to relate to her as a Character.
She also explains that this was her first attempt of writing from different character's perceptions / recollections in each chapter. Rebecca is telling her story backwards, whilst Joley, Sam, Oliver and Jane are telling there's mostly in a chronological order. Its rather confusing. I have read all of Jodi Picoult's other novels and I have always enjoyed this particular way of writing, but in this book, perhaps because it was her first attempt I found it quite puzzling. It interrupted my flow which prevented me enjoying an otherwise captivating story.