Reviews

The Rathbones by Janice Clark

If Tim Burton collaborated with Charles Addams to rewrite and combine The Odyssey and Moby-Dick, you would get ‘The Rathbones’. Janice Clark’s singular debut, a gothic adventure novel set in New England, is one of the most intriguing new novels this year (for the imagery and originality, if nothing else). Lest you think I jest about the strains of Charles Addams woven throughout the novel, consider this passage:

I reached for the lowest rung but it was too high for me. I beckoned to the crows. They twined my hair around their beaks and lifted, wings beating black in the gloom, until I could reach the bottom rung and pull myself up.

Mercy, the teenage, dark-haired protagonist, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbones. She is the last member of the Rathbones, a prominent New England whaling family that enjoyed unparalleled success due to their highly irregular methods. Moses, the prolific progenitor and original patriarch of the family, considered it his mission to harvest the abundant whales. He was particularly attuned to the sperm whales off the coast – a mystic gift he passed off to his many, many sons. Generations later, the whaling heyday has passed and Mercy’s continued seclusion in the failing Rathbone manse abruptly ends. After interrupting a forbidden coupling, she and her cousin Mordecai set off in a boat to find her long missing brother and, possibly, her perpetually absent father. What they discover will bring light to the darkest parts of the family tree.

The Rathbones

‘The Rathbones’ is a literary debut I will remember for many months to come. It’s a starkly imagined portrait of a declining dynastic family. Beginning with Moses and ending with Mercy, the Rathbones are a mysterious family with an even more mysterious history. Moses, who dreamt of building a family to harvest the whales, takes on a succession of seventeen wives, producing innumerable sons. But where are the daughters? And are all the sons truly his? The entire novel has an ethereal, hypnotic quality that lends a soft focus to the tragedies that must have been occurring. The story of Hepzibah, successor of a previous wife and predecessor of the next, illustrates this point quite well.

All the older Rathbone sons slept here, those aged twelve to twenty, all the crews just in from the sea that morning, a ship’s worth. Six men crewed each whaleboat, three whaleboats served each ship. While one sailed with Hepzibah, the others slept. She was passed from boy to boy, tossed from bed to bed like a bale, turned on each capstan, hauled and harvested until she brimmed with her own small ocean. By the time she left the hall at three bells in the last watch on seasick legs, whatever fish swam in her might have been spawned as much from the swirling plankton of the sea as from any particular son.

The novel contains many tragedies but maintains an unaffected air throughout – it’s a bit odd, but it’s also beautiful and surreal.  Admittedly the entire novel is a bit odd, from the diminutive protagonist to the pet crows to the distant mother and the missing brother. It’s also a compelling literary saga inspired by The Odyssey. If you like your fiction with a tinge of mythology or your heroine straight out of Charles Addams’ imagination, pick up ‘The Rathbones’. If you like beautiful, bleak imagery or the forbidden tangled mysteries of a mythical family, pick up ‘The Rathbones’. If you like gothic, literary adventures or novels with a heavy seafaring theme, pick up ‘The Rathbones’*. If I haven’t convinced you with any of the above, you may want to skip Janice Clark’s brilliant, utterly original fiction debut – whatever floats your boat.

Regarding that last bit, my apologies, but I felt this review had been entirely too serious. 4/5.

Although I was born in the decidedly not coastal city of Manchester, New Hampshire, I spent the next 18 years of life living within ten minutes of the ocean and thoroughly loving it – so it should come as no surprise that I like to read novels that heavily feature seafaring themes. This is one such novel and one of my favorites as of late. Anyone else regularly fantasize about living in a beach house? Will anyone else be picking up ‘The Rathbones’?

BiscuitThe characters were either eating bizarre, inedible food (like a chicken egg with a dead baby chick in it) or biscuits. For the sake of humanity, I am recommending the biscuits – particularly this one with Lemon Curd, Berries, and Cream.

*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion. The novel releases on August 6, 2013.

1/2

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  • http://christinarosendahl.wordpress.com christinasr

    This is already on my wish list but your review makes me want to read it even more. Even though I have no idea who Charles Addams is…

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      He’s the creator of The Addams family, you might have seen the movie versions from the ’90’s…?

      The book Is good and pleasantly creepy (if that is such a thing).

      • http://christinarosendahl.wordpress.com christinasr

        Oh yes. I did see that. And I love Tim Burton so a combination of that sounds really good.

  • http://jaydeashe.wordpress.com Jayde-Ashe

    Great review, sounds like a fascinating book – I’ll have to get my hands on it! Great cover. The biscuits look good too…thanks for not recommending the dead baby chicks.

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      I liked that the cover doesn’t indicate by design that it was written by a woman, which is always irritates me. The cover suits the novel quite well.

      There were baby chicks and other baby bird eggs and lots of inedible stews…

  • http://lipsyy.wordpress.com lipsyy

    I love the sound of this, thanks for bringing it to my attention! :)

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      You’re welcome. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  • http://bookstorebloggerconxn.com/ Redhead

    This sounds excellent! would you consider blurbing this review over at Bookstore Bookblogger Connection,to help us get the word out?

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      I have no idea what that means, so maybe…?

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I’m insanely curious about this book! Thanks for reviewing it…now I know it should be firmly on my wish list :)

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      It should, most definitely. I haven’t read anything quite like this one before, plus I thought the ending was excellent and fitting. It didn’t necessarily follow the traditional ‘everyone must be miserable to be literary fiction’ line of thought…

  • http://www.bookishlyboisterous.blogspot.com Christine @ BookishlyB

    Sounds interesting. You live in Colorado now, right? Quite the change from the East Coast!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      I do. I essentially came out here for college, stayed for graduate school, and then never left.

      I only get catastrophically depressed about my location in the summer. There’s no place to swim here aside from a few “lakes”. Lakes is in quotations because it is not a lake if I can easily swim from one side to the other.

  • http://picturemereading.wordpress.com picturemereading

    *love* the cover very edward gorey!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      It is! That’s a very good fit for the novel as well.

  • http://twitter.com/missbonnie13 Bonnie (@missbonnie13)

    Blegh. That looks much more appetizing than dead baby chicks.

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com Rory

      The scene describing the potential baby bird consumption was grotesque – in a good way (assuming that’s possible). I really liked this one. It was dark, a little disturbing, but totally free of blood. Also very weird.

      I probably just described myself. 😉

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