For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility. In anger and fear, Jane leave with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey charted by letters from her brother Joley, guiding them to his Massachusetts apple farm, where surprising self-discoveries await. Now Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent – and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes.
Songs of the Humpback Whale is Picoult’s first novel, a fact that is painfully evident as you turn the pages. I originally abandoned Songs of the Humpback Whale, placing it back on the bookcase around page 73, but I picked again after listing it as one of my To Be Read Challenge bookstack and coming to grips with the fact that reading the complete works of Jodi Picoult did require I read her first book too.
Songs of the Humpback Whale, like all of Picoult’s novels, is told from the alternating views of the characters involved, but what sets her first novel apart is the fact that Rebecca, Jane’s daughter, tells her story backwards. The overarching storyline of Jane leaving her husband is concluded within the first seventy pages, but the end of the novel is still a complete surprise. Completely unnecessary, but surprising. It’s a storytelling formula that’s both hard to explain and hard to understand. It’s difficult to establish the chronological order of the story, and left the last 100 pages as a repetition of things the reader already knew, except for the unnecessary death of one of the characters.
The plot itself is very formulaic, and not at all like the books Picoult went on to write. Jane leaves her absentee husband after fifteen years of marriage, and almost five years of dating, taking their daughter with her. Her journey along the way leaves to her having an affair, her daughter hating her, and her husband taking her back after she realizes home is where the heart is. Songs of the Humpback Whale is more about one woman’s day in the sun than ethical dilemmas society faces.
“I’ll go home and be the ideal wife, the perfect mother. I’ll do everything I’ve been doing and I won’t ever bring this up again. I’ll live the most ordinary life there ever was, just as ong as you promise me that I’ll get five minutes of wonderful before it’s all over.” (pg. 234)
When I first abandoned Songs of the Humpback Whale, I had already figured I would give the novel a one, at best. Then, around the middle of the novel, I was convinced it was at least a three, but now that I’ve finished it, I think my earlier rating was almost right on the money.
- Picoult, Jodi. Songs of the Humpback Whale. New York: Washington Square, 2001. Print. 346 pgs. ISBN: 9780743431019. Source: PaperBackSwap.