Ahab’s Wife or, The Star-Gazer
by Sena Jeter Naslund
I originally checked out Ahab’s Wife as a hardcover book . . . it weighted 2.8 lbs!! Ugh. I seriously could not get into it. Because I was reading this book for my book club, someone else had checked out a paperback and (as she was almost finished) sweetly swapped with me. That enabled me to actually pick up the 668 page book and finish it. 😉 It was not an easy read, and I do not understand the hype. Naslund’s style of writing, while engaging to the point of enticing me to finish, was flowery and long-winded. Her descriptions went on and on about the wind, sky, and water, but then became vague when describing her character’s meaning and at points their circumstances. It was a lopsided read to me. On top of a difficult style, the content was sad, gruesome, and a little hopeless. From spiritual abuse, to cannibalism, to a bleak view of marriage, Naslund’s themes run dark and somber. On finishing the book, I was left feeling empty, even though there was a “happy ending.” Because of this, I ended up skimming a good half of the book. I was disappointed. I am curious to why other people love it though . . .I’d love to hear your thoughts either way!
A few spoilers, but they’re worth reading before you commit to picking up this book. The story is based off a line from Moby-Dick about Captain Ahab’s wife. Naslund crafted a whole story and world for his wife, Una. Beginning with her childhood of spiritual abuse from her father (causing her to reject religion and God), Una leaves her home to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin at a lighthouse. In her adolescence she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a cabin boy on a whaling ship. Her adventures there end gruesomely as a cannibal before being rescued. She later becomes the wife of Ahab and has his son. In the end, Ahab dies and Una is able to live her life independently and writes this novel. That leaves out an enormous amount of details, including characters, sub plots and sub, sub plots, but it’s the basic gist. I will say, there are moments of hope and happiness, but they are few and far between.
Summing it up: I do not recommend Ahab’s Wife. It was depressing and difficult to push through to the end.
All the best, Abbey