Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Rathbones - Janice Clark

A literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.

Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.

Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow's walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.

Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark's magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

Last week was a sea shanty kind of week, with Melville's birthday a key factor and so I read the new The Rathbones. A stunning debut with a whole mythos behind it, I was very impressed.

The Rathbones follows Mercy Rathbone, the last of the Rathbone clan that was once the greatest whaling family in all of New England. She lives in the remains of what was once a great mansion with her mother who awaits a lost father at sea and her cousin who lives in the attic and teaches her of whales and science and life. After a strange encounter with a man on the widow's walk one night, Mercy and her cousin leave the house and begin an Odyssey-esque journey around the area where Mercy slowly begins to learn the true history of her family. 

Although it did take a chapter or two to settle into as the tone is very unique, I greatly enjoyed The Rathbones. It feels like reading a great myth, a mixture of The Odyssey, Moby Dick and various Old Testament narratives. As you start to unravel how the Rathbone clan went from a lone whaler with seemingly supernatural powers to a crumbling dynasty, you both fall more in love with Mercy while being enraptured by the tale. It's not a page turner in the typical sense but it did make me want to keep reading to uncover more secrets.

Another thing that I thought was clever in the narrative was that every time Mercy learned of a new generation, a small family tree would be updated before moving on to the next part of the journey. This both helped the reader follow along and also gave a connection to Mercy who was the one sketching the tree. 

All of the characters were unique and interesting, my personal favorite being cousin Mordecai, the basically albino brilliant relative in the attic. Despite spanning generations, each character is unique, except for the few who are supposed to seem interchangeable. 

If any of this appeals to you, I would definitely say to check out The Rathbones. It comes out today from Doubleday. Check it out!

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