Published by Penguin Books on June 26, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
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I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A rich and captivating novel set amid the witty, high-spirited literary society of 1850s New England, offering a new window on Herman Melville's emotionally charged relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and how it transformed his masterpiece, Moby-Dick
In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville finds himself hounded by creditors and afraid his writing career might be coming to an end--his last three novels have been commercial failures and the critics have turned against him. In despair, Melville takes his family for a vacation to his cousin's farm in the Berkshires, where he meets Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic--and his life turns upside down.
The Whale chronicles the fervent love affair that grows out of that serendipitous afternoon. Already in debt, Melville recklessly borrows money to purchase a local farm in order to remain near Hawthorne, his newfound muse. The two develop a deep connection marked by tensions and estrangements, and feelings both shared and suppressed.
Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, and Mark Beauregard's novel fills in the story behind that dedication with historical accuracy and exquisite emotional precision, reflecting his nuanced reading of the real letters and journals of Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. An exuberant tale of longing and passion, The Whale captures not only a transformative relationship--long the subject of speculation--between two of our most enduring authors, but also their exhilarating moment in history, when a community of high-spirited and ambitious writers was creating truly American literature for the first time.
Earlier this year, I enjoyed an author taking two famous authors and writing their stories side by side. So, when I was introduced to this book not only telling of two famous American author stories, but showing their friendship, their work, and a little something more, I was all in. It read like a love story tucked inside a historical fiction.
The Whale: A Love Story didn’t exactly grab me like I was hoping it would. I’ve read books by both authors: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. After being exposed to their writing and studying them a bit in college lit class, I was eager to learn more about the men behind the books. I was all kinds of curious about the suggestion that they were gay and had a love affair. I was open to not only buying in to even a whiff of it, but enjoying it even if it was just a very loose fictional story. Unfortunately, I got lost in the author’s writing style and couldn’t really like the Melville portrayed in this book (to be fair, he was something of a romanticist in real life) or get on board with the romance. He says and does idiotish things and being inside his head was torturous or mind-numbing in turn for me.
It wasn’t all a slog. I did enjoy the letters and I felt the author got the details of the time period down. Melville drove me nuts the way he got himself into trouble with his family, with entanglements, and all bumbling over his crush on Hawthorne, his muse. I liked the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville. I got a better feel for both men which is what I wanted.
I think I would recommend this for historical fiction fans who are open to broader interpretations of the characters and don’t mind an awkward romance at the heart of the story.
My thanks to Penguin-Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.