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Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel…

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel (P.S.) (original 1999; edition 2005)

by Sena Jeter Naslund

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3,0271062,842 (4.03)1 / 204
Title:Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Sena Jeter Naslund
Info:Harper Perennial (2005), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, 2006

Work details

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (1999)

  1. 51
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (ecleirs24)
    ecleirs24: Cause this novel is based upon a passage from Mobi Dick......
  2. 00
    We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (spiphany)

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Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
This is kind of a feminist companion to Moby Dick - or at least that's the impression it gave me, although I've never read it and I'm not much of a fan of 19th century american lit. The main character's interactions with the New England intellectuals of the day - Margaret Fuller, Emerson, the Mitchell's - seemed contrived to me, and the book just went on too long. On the other hand the main character was compelling enough to get me through to the end. A few years ago I read The Peabody Sisters - a biography by Megan Marshall that covered similar ground and liked that better. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
a beautifully written novel in a rich narrative. I enjoyed so much learning about whalers, their families, and the early days of Nantucket. ( )
  Smits | Oct 21, 2018 |
For some reason, Moby-Dick has gotten a reputation as a boring slog of a book. That's what I had in my head before I read it last year, anyways, and was delighted to be proven wrong. It's actually both lively and informative, full of adventure and interesting facts about whaling in the olden days of yore. And while our narrator, Ishmael, is a bit of a cipher, Captain Ahab is one of the most memorable characters in literature, with his ivory false leg and burning wrath for the white whale. And in a throwaway line or two, it's mentioned that he has a wife at home.

In Ahab's Wife, author Sena Jeter Naslund takes that barely-mentioned, never seen character and gives us her whole life. A novel I read in high school, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, had the same kind of basis (took a minor biblical character and told her life story), and I loved that book wholeheartedly. Which probably set my expectations a little too high, which isn't really fair, but between that and a killer first line, "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last", I was really excited to read this book.

As you can probably surmise from the above, I didn't like it quite as much as I was hoping. Una Spenser is meant to be a one-of-a-kind, irrepressible heroine, but I found her maybe a little too special. She's not just lovely, smart, brave, resilient, passionate, and strong, she's also an object of desire for virtually every man she meets, treated with lavish kindness by almost every person of either gender that she comes across, and unfailingly tolerant and liberal in her attitudes. Which is just not very realistic, and leaves her ringing false as a character. While she certainly has to overcome obstacles (the aftermath of a horrific shipwreck, her treatment at the hands of her first husband, the loss of her first child, the death of her second husband), her only real "flaw" seems to be that she's too impulsive and headstrong, too daring. Which, of course, is presented as not much of a flaw at all.

I wish that Una was a better-drawn and more well-rounded character, because this book could have been quite lovely. Naslund's prose is definitely on the flowery side (if this turns you off, avoid this book at all costs because you will hate it), but I can get down with that if the story is compelling. The first half of the book had much more dramatic tension and excitement than the second half, which dragged in the long sections describing Una standing in the wind and gazing at the stars and/or sea, philosophizing about the world and her place in it. It's quite a lengthy novel at over 650 pages, and editing down some of the aforementioned mind-wandering-while-hair-blows-in-the-wind passages might make Una (and her story as a whole) a little more dynamic and interesting. That being said, I did enjoy reading it and thought it was a pretty good book. Just not quite as good as I wanted it to be. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
Too long, too full of rambling thoughts, especially on the part of the very self-centred main character. Too self-indulgent on the part of the author. And dreary. ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
What an amazing piece of literature. The research into Nantucket's culture, the whaling ships, references to madness and living with despair, and life in the Kentucky wilderness are all top notch. Not to mention life as part of a lighthouse keeper's family: where their meals came from, keeping roses, the island's hidden secrets, all the minutiae of life. And one of the best parts was that Una was a heroine who loved sewing! Yay for the needle and thread and for warm Kentucky quilts!

There is sensuality and flirtation as well, as Una lives in a world with men who find her attractive and she reacts to their overtures. She has a romantic side that she discovers and that side also becomes the pull for her to leave her lighthouse family and go a-whaling. Whether this happened in real life or not is up for discussion; what Una realizes as events unfold is that some things can not be discussed and her reaction to the same events will be different from the two men she loves.

In a book this size there are bound to be characters who come and go, and Naslund does a good job of moving some characters' stories off of the main stage so that others who are more suited for a new chapter of Una's life can enter. The issue of slavery is discussed right at the beginning and in various points and *trigger warning* the book opens with a difficult and tragic birth. This tragedy is, even now, a commonplace occurrence, and the reasons for it being at the beginning of Una's narrative are given towards the end.

If you want to curl up with a glimpse of a woman's life in the early 1800's or to research the history of whaling (yes, it's in there) or the island of Nantucket, or if you love books that have a rich and warm language, this book is worth its weight. ( )
  threadnsong | Feb 18, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
Naslund, the author of four previous books of fiction, is most successful here sentence to sentence, where her gift for pleasure shines. Her Una is a deep and wayward creature, undaunted by convention, whose descriptions are dense with a languid and sensual interest in the world. Unlike Ahab, Una can wait. She is not driven; for her, the world is enough.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sena Jeter Naslundprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wormell, ChristopherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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One must take off her fear like clothing; One must travel at night; This is the seeking after God. --Maureen Morehead, "In a Yellow Room"
In Token Of My Admiration and Affection This Book Is Inscribed To John C. Morrison
First words
Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.
A dart tipped with pleasure and feathered with pain passed through me.
How could I … become blind? What trajectory intended for me, determined by me, could include the subtracting of sight from the sense of me?
And I thought I would not tell… Though it left me a liar, it left me having placed a higher value on Charlotte’s happiness than on my own clean conscience. But was it not arrogance in me that made me think I knew best in the matter, that my hand at the stopcock had the wisdom to regulate the flow of truth?
Sometimes my mother and I stood and looked at our faces together in the oval mirror she had brought with her from the East. … Thus, elegantly framed, my mother and I made a double portrait of ourselves for memory, by looking in the mirror.
…I have ever feared the weathervane in me. Sometimes I point toward Independence, isolation. Sometimes I rotate – my back to Independence – and I need and want my friends, my family, with a force like a gale. … I do not count myself fickle, for I have much of loyalty in me, but I am changeable.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060838744, Paperback)

It has been said that one can see farther only by standing on the shoulders of giants. Ahab's Wife, Sena Naslund's epic work of historical fiction, honors that aphorism, using Herman Melville's Moby-Dick as looking glass into early-19th-century America. Through the eye of an outsider, a woman, she suggests that New England life was broader and richer than Melville's manly world of men, ships, and whales. This ambitious novel pays tribute to Melville, creating heroines from his lesser characters, and to America's literary heritage in general.

Una, named for the heroine of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, flees to the New England coast from Kentucky to escape her father's puritanism and to pursue a more exalted life. She gets whaling out of her system early: going to sea at 16 disguised as a boy, Una has her ship sunk by her own monstrous whale, and survives a harrowing shipwreck:

I was so horrified by the whale's deliberate charge that I could not move. Then my own name flew up from below like a spear: "Una!" Giles' voice broke my trance, and I scrambled down the rigging. No sooner did my foot touch the deck than there was such a lurch that I fell to my face. I heard and felt the boards break below the waterline, the copper sheathing nothing but decorative foil. The whole ship shuddered. A death throe.
The ship dies, but Una returns to land to pursue the life of the mind. The novel's opening line--"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last"--also diminishes Melville's hero in the broader scheme of things. Naslund exposes the reader to the unsung, real-life heroes of Melville's world, including Margaret Fuller and her Boston salon, and Nantucket astronomer Maria Mitchell. There is a chance meeting with a veiled Nathaniel Hawthorne in the woods, and throughout the novel the story brims with references to the giants of literature: Shakespeare, Goethe, Coleridge, Keats, and Wordsworth. Although her novel runs long at nearly 700 pages, Naslund has created an imaginative, entertaining, and very impressive work. --Ted Leventhal

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:47 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The adventures of Una Spenser who went to sea disguised as a cabin boy. Shipwrecked, she marries one of the survivors, then falls in love with Captain Ahab, a man obsessed with a white whale. She becomes involved in fighting slavery and in women's rights.… (more)

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