Monday, December 09, 2013

The Rathbones (Book Review)

Author: Janice Clark
Year: 2013
Genre: Novel/Historical
Reading Level: Adult

Plot Summary: The Rathbones, a once prosperous whaling family, have dwindled down to fifteen-year-old Mercy.  It's been years since a sperm whale was spotted near their home on the New England coast, and it's been just as long since Mercy's father left to chase it.  After a mysterious and violent encounter with a nighttime visitor, Mercy leaves the ancestral Rathbone home with her uncle, determined to find her father and the truth of the Rathbone family at last.

Red Flags: Language, sexual content, some violence, incest, an abundance of nautical terminology

My Rating: C
This book reminded me of three others: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Historian and The Thirteenth Tale.  All of those are better books than this one.  I will not deny that this book has its virtues--I liked the illustrations and it was decently written.  I liked the allusions to Greek mythology, and the time period interests me.  Janice Clark certainly knows her way around a boat.  

But.  I just didn't really like it very much at all.  It was strange, but not in a good or fun way.  Just a strange story about strange people doing strange things, with a lot of incest thrown in along the way.  Who was I even supposed to like?  Mercy, the ho-hum narrator?  Wacky Uncle Mordecai?  That's not to say there are no interesting characters (the Starks were a bright spot of entertaining battiness), but I just didn't like most of them and didn't want to read about half of them.  You know how on some reality tv shows you just want to shake people and say "BE NORMAL!"?  That was my reaction to most of this book.  Be normal, Rathbones!  And for crying out loud, don't get involved with your siblings/uncles/cousins/nieces!  

A big problem I had with this book was the constant backtracking about the central mysteries.  Her father is missing, her father is dead, her mother loves her father, her mother doesn't care about her father, her mother loves AND doesn't care her father.  The mystery about her brother was even worse, and both eventually resolved into utterly benign endings.  By that point I had kind of stopped caring, after all the ups and downs to get there.  Other plot elements seemed kind of undeveloped as well, making the whole thing rather muddy.  The whole idea of family curses and the long-lasting ramifications of decisions would have been more interesting if they were more developed.  In the end, I'm not sure what the point of it all was. 

Also, I think this book would have benefited greatly from three things: a labelled diagram of a ship, a glossary of whaling terminology and a map of the coastline.  I did appreciate the family chart and how it was gradually filled.

Overall, my honest book summary would go something more like this: "Girl discovers just how weird her family tree* is, and then her life continues.  Also, incest."

Memorable quotes:
"I had looked into the distance so long that I hadn't seen what was near at hand.  If we don't cherish those who stay near, what do we have?  Only longing.  Longing which we grow to love because it's all we have."

*I use the term "tree" loosely.  

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