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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everybody's Talking About Ahab's Wife

The weather is cooperating with the RRNN Book Discussion Group today - it's going to get warm enough for me to enjoy washing my car, but it's going to take a while. So there's time for me to send y'all an update about last week's discussion of Ahab's Wife.

Ready for what everyone else thought about Ahab's Wife? I was surprised there was as much criticism as there was. Our group is very discerning! I enjoyed the book a lot and had only the criticism that it seemed the author had done a lot of research about the time/place/events in history (good) but then felt compelled to use all the information and so seemed to add sections just to illustrate some of the historic facts (not always so good). Others felt the same way; there were several complaints about too much information. Frank helped us by introducing the term, "infodump." This is not to say we were all that negative about this, but we noticed it.

Frank also noted that it is a fine author's art to juxtapose real historic characters with fictitious characters. This was done partially successfully in Ahab's Wife, but there was some concern in our group that there were too many famous historical characters crossing paths with the fictitious heroine of the book, Una, to be believable.

Another new term was brought up by Sandy. She said the author was trying to "Melville" herself, ie, to get herself compared to Melville by writing about whaling and using some of the famous Melville's style of detail and trying to write a huge sweeping novel. Sandy also offered the criticism that there were too many unfinished stories in the book, each of them really a book in itself: what happened to David Poland, Kit, and Frannie?

The author did a good job of keeping the reader's interest by keeping the writing looking forward, even from the first sentence. The first sentence is almost as memorable and inviting as "Call me Ishmael." History shall see.. Of course, in Melville's day, there were ever so many fewer first lines available to remember, compared with today...

Pat M. chose to read aloud a favorite passage from the book, and it turned out that Cindy T. had not been able to be at the meeting but had emailed me with some comments...including the same passage! This was a passage from a letter that Starbuck, Ahab's first mate, is composing in his mind to his wife. It is the letter he didn't send, the words he didn't say, about where we stand in the realm of control and being in control of our lives and the world. It is a passage that offers the hope of prayer, trust, himility, and faith in times of hardship. (from chapter 67)

There was general agreement that the book can speak to you, make you think, and possibly here and there offer insight that mey help you with your own problems.

We talked about whether cannibalism is really a choice when one is starving and is offered sustenance. There is a strong survival instinct vs civilized behavior, and then there is the added aspect that a person in a state of starvation such as occurred in the lifeboat is likely to be in an altered state of consciousness, and not nearly as "responsible" for their actions as they would be on a normal day.

We did discuss other questions the book brought out, such as questions about the relationship between the characters and choices they made and how they interfaced with the time in history.

In the end, the majority of the group "liked" the book rather than didn't. It certainly was a good book for discussion!

BTW, Patrick Stewart is Ahab in the movie.

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