I’ve only ever read 3 books by Patrick Ness before. I liked A Monster Calls but really didn’t like The Rest of Us Just Live Here or Burn. Still, a lot of people seem to really like him. When this happens, I always wonder if I’m missing something. So, when this came up on my library’s online catalogue I decided to give it a go.
I have to admit that I couldn’t resist the concept of a flipped Moby Dick that saw whales hunting man. It was the kind of juicy and fun premise that draws you in. Not that I’ve actually read Herman Melville’s classic novel because it seems like a lot of hard work. Why not start with this version then? At least I wouldn’t unfairly compare it to the original book. I could go in with fresh eyes and read it without preconceptions. Although, I was slightly worried that I would be missing out on something.
I can’t say that this is the subtlest retelling that I’ve ever read. There’s nothing wrong with being so obvious with your references but the nods and winks did kind of beat you around the face. Still, there was no way Patrick Ness could have picked any other opening line than “Call me Bathsheba.” Bathsheba is a hunter of men and a junior officer under Captain Alexandra. Together, the pod of whales is tracking the ruthless whale hunter, Toby Wick and his white ship. But is Toby Wick real or just a dangerous obsession?
I have to wonder if I missed some of the magic by listening to this as an audiobook. I’ve seen the illustrations that accompany the physical edition and I reckon they’d have brought an extra level to the story. As it was, I found the story to drag a little, which is ridiculous considering how short it is. Maybe it also doesn’t help that I’m only aware of the original novel on very basic terms. I have the gist of it but I don’t have experience with Melville’s language. Maybe that would have helped a bit more?
That’s not to say that it isn’t an accessible novel for newbies. It introduces you to an interesting world and some great characters. The implication of turning the original novel on its head is that it opens up new themes. It’s a unique and original take. However, I feel as though the story falters because it tries to be so faithful to the original. The most interesting part of the book is the world under the sea. I wish we’d spent more time learning about the whale’s society and the dynamics under the ocean. Take away the retelling and this could have been an entertaining fantasy tale.