I just finished reading my second Jodi Picoult book, Songs Of The Humpback Whale. I have had a few of Jodi’s books lying unread on my bookshelf for a couple of years now, and Salem Falls intrigued me just about enough to pick up this one. It was only after I completed this book that I came to know that this was the first book Jodi ever published.
Songs Of The Humpback Whale is the story of Jane, a speech therapist, and her teenage daughter, Rebecca. Jane falls in love with Oliver when she was just 15, and starts dating him. Soon enough, Jane and Oliver get married, and then, Rebecca arrives all too soon, not that she is an unwelcome child. Jane has never loved any male other than Oliver, a marine biologist who researches the songs of humpback whales in the oceans, and has always lived in his shadow. After decades of living with Oliver, Jane realises that the warmth between them is gone, that they are just playing at a charade called marriage. She realises, too, that she has lost her individuality in the process.
One fine day, Jane’s temper flares over an arguement with Oliver, and she decides to leave him. She jumps into her station wagon in the very clothes that she is wearing, all set to drive off, when she notices Rebecca in the backseat. Jane and Rebecca take off together on a cross-country trip, guided by letters from Jane’s brother Joley all along the way. Their destination is the apple orchard where Joley works, which belongs to a person called Sam Hansen.
The book progresses to tell readers about Oliver’s feelings when he realises that Jane and Rebecca have gone from his life for good,the adventures of Jane and Rebecca on their cross-country trip, and the events that unfold on their arrival at the apple orchard.
Songs Of The Humpback Whale was not an easy book to read. It has been narrated by five different people – Jane, Oliver, Rebecca, Joley and Sam, two or more of them sometimes talking about the same incident in different ways. To make matters even more complicated, Jodi has made Rebecca narrate her story in reverse chronological order – from the climax of the story to the time when she left her home and her father with Jane. The narrations of the other characters are in the chronological order. It was quite difficult to keep focused on the book initially, and understand what was really happening. However, once I had gotten a hang of the writing style, the book did have me hooked till the very end.
Jodi’s writing in Songs Of The Humpback Whale came across as a tad amateurish, after having read her in Salem Falls. There is a considerable difference in the way Jodi has structured her words in both these books, or so I felt. Jodi’s strengths as a writer seemed, to me, to have drastically shot up from Songs Of The Humpback Whale to Salem Falls.
Songs Of The Humpback Whale did not feel quite as unbelievable to me as Salem Falls, though the book did get a bit too weird for my taste at times. But then, that is typical Jodi Picoult for you, I guess. And, as usual, Jodi has done a wonderful job of etching out her characters – she has beautifully brought out why they are the way they are.
I liked the character of Jane, her journey in the outside world and within herself, and her realisations about herself and Oliver. I can’t say that I agreed with all the decisions that Jane took in the course of her life, but then, I am not Jane.
This book does not contain as much of the moral dilemma of Salem Falls; it is more about the journey of Jane and Rebecca and their transformation.
I would say I quite liked the book, though I can’t really say I loved it. It has whetted my appetite for more of Jodi Picoult, and I am definitely catching up with more of her books.
Have you read Songs Of The Humpback Whale? What did you think about it?
Edited to add: The lovely Suko, who writes at Suko’s Notebook, has a Jodi Picoult reading challenge going on her blog. Committed to inspiring more and more book-lovers to read Jodi, the challenge asks readers to read at least one book by the author. I dedicate this review to Suko’s Jodi Picoult Project.