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A road trip with background music
Songs of the Humpback Whale - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: katyj10
Songs of the Humpback Whale - Jodi Picoult
Date: 03/09/12, updated on 03/09/12 (15 review reads)
Advantages: Some interesting chapters
Disadvantages: Very repetitive
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.
Summary: Not one of her best