Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult
Hodder (paperback), 1992
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Jane had always lived in somebody’s shadow. Escaping a childhood of abuse by marrying oceanographer Oliver Jones, she finds herself taking second place to his increasingly successful career. However, when her daughter Rebecca is similarly treated, Jane’s dramatic stand takes them all by surprise. Jane and Rebecca set out to drive across America to the sanctuary of the New England apple orchard where Jane’s brother Joley works. Oliver, used to tracking male humpback whales across vast oceans, now has the task of tracking his wife across a continent. To do so he must learn to see the world – and even himself – through her eyes…
In the upper right hand corner of the photo is a miniature airplane that looks as if it is flying right into my forehead. It is very tiny and steel-blue, a long bloated oval cut in the middle with its own wings. It is the shape, really, of the Cross. It was the first thing my mother noticed when we received the photo in Massachusetts. “You see, Rebecca,” she said. “It’s a sign.”
Songs of the Humpback Whale is my third Picoult novel. I thought The Pact was really good and Nineteen Minutes was rubbish. I was sort of dreading reading Songs of the Humpback Whale because I’ve read so many scathing reviews. I was pleasantly surprised when I really enjoyed Songs of the Humpback Whale. Picoult uses five different first-person narrators so the structure is quite complex. However, each chapter is headed by the character’s name so it’s easy to keep track of whose head you are in. Picoult doesn’t make it clear when the chapters are set though and I got a bit muddled. A few times I wasn’t sure if I was reading a chapter set in the present when Oliver was tracking Jane and Rebecca or a flashback or future events. The when should have been a bit clearer. Songs of the Humpback Whale is a good read for a debut. There are a few corny moments but what debut novelist doesn’t fall into this trap? I found Jane and Oliver’s relationship fascinating. Jane and her brother Joley’s relationship was sort of creepy. There was something slightly incestuous about his feelings towards her. Rebecca is fifteen and falls in love with twenty-five year old Hadley. Picoult made me believe they genuinely loved each other but I still felt Hadley was a pervert and committed statutory rape when he had sex with her. The relationship has a tragic and in a way symbolic ending. The ending is very sad and I really felt Rebecca’s pain. I think Jane made a mistake at the end. Songs of the Humpback Whale is an enjoyable read. There were a few weak spots but I was impressed overall considering this was Picoult’s first novel.
A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates