Newest Review: ... America with Oliver tracing their movements. Why the humpback title? Oliver's profession is studying the movements and patterns of whales... more
Not a lot to wail about
Songs of the Humpback Whale - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: QueenElf
Songs of the Humpback Whale - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: Quite a good story, her first book.
Disadvantages: Not up to her usual standard.Disjointed and plot spoilers.
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.
İLisa Fuller 2011.
Summary: Worth a read just to start with