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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The novel as sorcery
Literary novels (and this is most definitely one) are not easily assimilated. It often takes time to absorb a beautifully crafted, well-structured and meaningful work of fiction. Literary novels cannot be reduced to a simple description so whatever professional reviewers have concocted as a tagline for Janice Clarke's debut novel The Rathbones will inevitably be...
Published 13 months ago by Michael Birman

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic Tale of a Whaling Family
The Rathbones is a gothic tale about the mystery of the Rathbone family, once a large and prosperous whaling clan. Mercy, a fifteen year old girl is in the Rathbone mansion which has suffered from decay. It is located on the sea in Connecticut and she has never left it. Her father has been on a whaling mission for ten years and has not returned in that time. Her mother...
Published 19 months ago by Bonnie Brody


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The novel as sorcery, January 11, 2014
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This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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Literary novels (and this is most definitely one) are not easily assimilated. It often takes time to absorb a beautifully crafted, well-structured and meaningful work of fiction. Literary novels cannot be reduced to a simple description so whatever professional reviewers have concocted as a tagline for Janice Clarke's debut novel The Rathbones will inevitably be misleading. This is not Moby Dick meets Homer's The Odyssey and readers expecting anything resembling such a strange hybrid will be disappointed. What The Rathbones is most akin to, in my mind at least, is Stanislaw Lem's psychological-fantasy-symbolist novel Solaris in which a strange living sea on another world holds a mirror up to the lives of its human protagonists. This is as close to a description of the complexity and depth of The Rathbones as I am capable of making.

There are a few distasteful events in the novel that may disturb some readers. Life is filled with distasteful events. Readers should not confuse descriptions of what people are capable of inflicting on each other and themselves with approbation of those events. The Rathbones is an honest novel and should be applauded for its truthfulness. But the novel does not focus on the unsavory. If anything, The Rathbones is fixated on the magical sphere that surrounds us: the strangeness, the beauty and some of the horror that makes up the world and our uncertain role in it. To the extent that there is an undertone of magic in the novel, albeit magic of the sea and the elements, The Rathbones can be called a novel of "magical realism". Sophisticated readers who enjoy writers like Charles de Lint will probably feel at home here. The Rathbones is a superb first novel and I am eagerly awaiting further work by author Janice Clark.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really special and very different book, July 11, 2013
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sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This book tells the story of the mysterious Rathbone family and is told through different narrators at different points in time. The oldest narrator is Moses Rathbone who as a young boy in 1761 started the families obsession with whaling off of Naiwayonk, Connecticut.

Our main protagonist is young Mercy Rathbone and her story starts out 1859 as she is watching her mother Verity pacing upstairs awaiting the return of her papa - who has been away almost 10 long years at sea. Is the father dead? And what has happened to him?

Mercy's mother seems very cold and distant from her daughter and when something happens that drives Mercy from the house, she goes on a sea voyage with her cousin Mordecai - an odd man who has lived in the attic. During this voyage, Mercy will gradually learn her family's history and as she does so, she continually updates a family tree. By the end of this strange yet fascinating novel, the tree is complete.

This is a very odd book to review and this was a very different reading experience for me. The book is not told in the usual straight narrative form and the story winds back and forth in time and is told in fantastical and wildly descriptive ways. Reminiscent of the Odyssey on many levels, Mercy witnesses and experiences things not from this world - yet by the time you finish you realize you have read a story about very real human trials and tribulations.

When I first started the book, I wasn't sure it was my cuppa. I usually don't like mystical or fantastical reads unless the story is pretty straightforward. In fact about 1/3 through I didn't think I was going to care for it that much. But I can tell you that I read this book in two sittings and that by the time I turned the last page I realized how special it was. Terrific story with a wonderful denouement.

Recommended.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic Tale of a Whaling Family, July 13, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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The Rathbones is a gothic tale about the mystery of the Rathbone family, once a large and prosperous whaling clan. Mercy, a fifteen year old girl is in the Rathbone mansion which has suffered from decay. It is located on the sea in Connecticut and she has never left it. Her father has been on a whaling mission for ten years and has not returned in that time. Her mother walks the widow walk and looks for him. However, she is cold to Mercy and has a male friend who is scary and attempts to harm Mercy. Mercy, along with her cousin and tutor, Mordecai, arrange to leave their home in Connecticut and take a boat out to sea. They are chased by the mysterious man in blue but manage to get to Mouse Island which is populated by a large group of women who weave day and night. They welcome both Mercy and Mordicai and tell them something about their history and the importance of their sons for whaling.

Whaling was the sole occupation of Moses Rathbone, the progenitor of the Rathbone clan. He was said to have salt water in his veins and was one with the whales and the sea. He started a large fleet of whaling vessels manned by the sons of his many wives. As Mercy and Mordicai travel from island to island, they learn more and more about their family.

The story is told from different vantage points in time and by different people, primarily in the 18th and 19th century. <

To be quite honest, I had a lot of trouble following the book and can not say that it grabbed me to any extent. However, it is very unusual and well-written. I was just not that interested in the story of the Rathbones.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but problematic, September 2, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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I suppose that since the Rathbones hunted whales the Moby Dick comparisons were inevitable. The references to ancient stories warrant comparison with the Odyssey.

But-

<<<<Spoiler Alert>>>>

This book should really be compared to Flowers in the Attic. I have never read, nor can I imagine how one would write a book with more incest in it. This is a family tree that does not have branches. There are rapes and then "sharing". I am not sure how many times we were told that some poor woman was brimming with multiple guys "seed" but ew. This is the first time I have ever wanted to spray down a book with Lysol. The incest remains a major plot point in the book and overwhelms more interesting plot points. I don't think the author means for incest to be the major theme but since nothing else in the book can happen without it- it is. And you can't really push it to the side and enjoy the story.

Which is unfortunate because this is an otherwise great book. It is well written. I have such a clear picture in my head of Rathbone House. The literary allusions are lovely and well done. Everyone figures out who the man in ble is before Mercy but she is a kid from a family of weird incesty liars so it feels organic that she doesn't know. Her quest to figure things out give her adequate development and she is a very likable character- stuck knee deep in a story about rape and incest. And, tangentially whales.
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45 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Felt like the reviews presented were somewhat amiss in revealing the main overtone of the book., August 2, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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I chose this book based on reviews from the authors peers, not on those of Amazon readers. My experience with this book was completely different than what I expected from the reviews.
The wonderful promises of old world history, allusions to Greek ancient history and the comparison made to Moby Dick were, as far as I am concerned, far down on the list of what this story is overpoweringly saying. Beginning with chapter 4 entitled 'Moses Rathbone', the reader is thrown into the life of Moses Rathbone, a whaler bent on keeping full whaling crews of his own sons, and he figures he will need lots of sons because according to the story many die or become maimed in the whaling business. As we enter chapter four his 7th wife is brought to his home in the dark of night taken to Moses bed chamber and left there. Moses inspects Hepzibah (the new wife) as if he were inspecting breeding stock. When he decides she meets whatever his standard is he beds her and then she is passed on in the same way to all of Moses sons from about age 14 up that very same night.
Any boys born to Moses many wives are kept for the whaling business, girls disappear. When a wife gets too old to be good breeding stock anymore she is shipped off to an Island with all the other wives that are now useless to Moses and his sons as breeding stock. The useless wives are housed and provided for for the rest of their lives. When the babies are born the boys are taken from their mothers before they can walk and raised from that point on by the men in the family. All the men lived on the first floor of the house and the wives on the second floor. And so on we go through the generations not knowing who was the father of the children because the "wife" was given to all the men.
Somewhere in the family line one of Moses boys decided to court a high society girl, the girl, Lydia, and her two sisters, last name Stark, were married into the Rathebone family, only this time the three wives were kept only for their husbands and were guarded so none of the other Rathebone men could couple with them. The 3 wives bore many sons, in this generation Lydia Stark Rathborne convinced her husband to allow the little girls to live. Each of the three Stark wives bore a daughter each. When the girls turned about 14 their mothers decided to send the girls away to school in Boston. These 3 girls only pretended to go to the school and instead moved themselves in downstairs with their uncles and brothers presenting themselves like bar room trollops and laid with all of the men producing an inbred generation that was far from what Moses had originally planned. I felt the presence of this most degrading treatment of women, children and the conduct of some of the women so prevalent on every page of this book that it permeated and overshadowed nearly all other parts of the story to the point of drowning any remaining relevance of the story. The book, told mostly from the point of view of Mercy Rathborne even tells how Mercy's father would show up about once a year to have sex with Mercy's mother on the boards of the widows walk at the top of the house and then leave again as soon as he had dropped her skirts back down, and in the end Mercy tells we readers how her father came back one last time and while executing his act her mother died, from to tight a corset and her fathers hands around his wifes neck, then he stood back up on his feet and as usual descended the ladder of the widows walk and went on his way.

As I mentioned the book is steeped in this material and thus bears very,very,very, little resemblance to the mentioned reviews.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars William Faulkner, in Whaling Country, and Morbidly Kinky, January 31, 2014
By 
Big Dave (Boise, Idaho) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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There are things I enjoyed quite a bit about The Rathbones: it has a nice gothic feel, and a sort of folk-tale logic, and a gruesome Gormenghast-ish aesthetic. I wish those things were enough to carry me over the shortcomings.

The book's plot is childishly simple: the protagonist is looking for her father, and periodically visions or visitors give her glimpses of the past. The author indulges in way too much super-detailed description, at the expense of characterization and story. The story is obsessed with weird sex: incest (repeatedly), women passed from man to man through a rutting crowd (repeatedly, and at one point with the apparent implication that women by nature, or at least the protagonist, desire such treatment), and necrophilia (once, which was enough). And at the end of the story, the outlandish grotesquerie of the Rathbones (the family) leaves me feeling so thoroughly detached from them that I can't find anything in the nature of a theme, moral, or human insight to redeem the experience. I'm left with the feeling that the author has just led me to wallow in meaningless oddity for a few hours, like being subjected to the Addams family, without the humor.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical. Mesmerizing. Extraordinarily unique., September 9, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
It was an ad in the New York Times Book Review that caught my attention and prompted me to read The Rathbones. Being an avid reader of mysteries, cookbooks and travelogues, the first few pages were a stretch for me.... but, Ms. Clark's writing was such that I had to keep reading. In fact, the storyline haunted me when I was forced to break due to commitments. I kept wondering, "Where is she (Ms. Clark) going with this?"

Reviewers before me have related enough of the storyline, that I see no need for this review to be repetitive. However, I found this book to be refreshingly unique with the most visual prose that I have encountered in a very, long time. Maybe it's because I'm from the eastern shore, but to read about all the types of sails, to feel the rolling of the water, to see the sands, shells, seaweed and stars pricking the skies, and all the various sea life just filled a void that I hadn't known existed.

And, the gowns that the women wore! Their colors, as they related to nature, I found to be exceptionally poetic.

Certainly, there are references to Moby Dick and Homer's The Odyssey, but I kept thinking of Pai, who seeks the whales, in 'Whale Rider'. Oh, to know what it is to be in the same waters and ride with such a mammal!

Initially, reading about the breeding of Rathbones to create crews, was a bit shocking and unsettling. But then, I began to understood the innocence, due to the ignorance of right from wrong, and the consequences of single-focusness and being sheltered.

The plot carried me along its watery journey to a very-satisfying conclusion. 'The Rathbones' is creative writing at its best, and I am very pleased to have read it. In the right hands, The Rathbones would make a visually stunning film.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastical saga of a sea faring family, September 11, 2013
By 
Marilee (Florida USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
This is one of the best novels I've read in the past year ... it's part historical novel, allegory, gothic fable, family saga and fictional memoir. It is Janice Clark's first book and she is a rare talent, one I'll be watching.

Without giving too much away, the story of The Rathbone family is set in the mid nineteenth century, on the sea faring coast of Connecticut. The males of the family are whalers, the progeny of Moses Rathbone. There are disturbing aspects to the family history, but handled with a matter of fact non sensational prose. The full weight of the secrets dawn slowly... peeled back bit by bit from the shrouds of time and distance as if by the crow which flits and flies in and out of the story, on and off the shoulder of Mercy, our young heroine. The crow serves as an allegorical device, always there, sometimes helpful and protective, sometimes threatening, but like the sea and whales, mute testimony to the power and pull of heritage, memory and destiny.

The book reminded me a bit of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, in the blending of reality and fantasy. Which is which? Does it matter? Aren't all novels fantastical to one degree or another?

Highly recommended... a terrific book. Perhaps I should mention that while Mercy, the main protagonist of the story is a young girl, this is not a book for youngsters, ie. the YA audience.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's not Moby Dick, August 19, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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Imagine Herman Melville's great classic, "Moby Dick." Or, if you can't imagine it, having not read it, seen the movie or it's just been too long, try to remember the basic plot - Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the search for the whale with, you know, lots of talk about whales and obsession and symbolic quests, and, did I mention lots of details about whaling?
Well, Janice Clark's new novel, "The Rathbones," is not "Moby Dick," but she does her best imitation of it. It's all there - the slow, stylized, detailed descriptions of all things whaley, the quest for something only heard about in legend, the mystery and grandeur of that last, great whale. Only the quest in "The Rathbones" is not for the whale, it's for the young narrator's missing father and brother. The obsession is with her own family's history and making sense of it.
"The Rathbones" is about a whaling family that has fallen on hard times and founded by the mysterious and hard living Moses Rathbone who had 17, count 'em, 17 wives along with numerous sons who are all named for the job they perform on their father's whaling vessels: Bow-Oar, 2nd Oar, 3rd Oar, etc. Mercy is the 15 year old narrator who lives a solitary life in the decrepit mansion she shares with her mother and her bookwormish cousin.
Her mother, a cold, aloof woman, who perpetually paces the "widow's walk" on top of the home waiting for the return of her husband, Mercy's father, from the sea, is eventually discovered by the young Mercy in the arms of a mysterious stranger. The stranger, for reasons that are never fully explained, is kind of threatening and Mercy and her cousin, Mordecai, flee the home with a few possessions and a pet crow.
Liberally sprinkled with flowery language and long flashbacks to the days when the Rathbone men took what they wanted - be it women or whales - the author attempts to craft a historical saga of a whaling family. The problem is that other than the narrator and her cousin, it's hard to care very much about any of the characters, much less figure out what they're feeling at any given time or what their motivations are.
Even the scenes with the narrator and her cousin as they travel around seeking to unlock the mystery behind their shared past are strangely bereft of any real emotion. In the end, the mystery may be solved, but it's very hard to care about it or remember too much of it. The numerous descriptive details of the great Rathbone quest escape one's mind immediately after reading it like an ocean breeze on a hot day. Reading "Moby Dick" never sounded so good in comparison.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rathbones, July 28, 2013
This review is from: The Rathbones (Hardcover)
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Mercy Rathbone leads a strange, lonely life. Her father is off at sea, no one will discuss the brother she dimly remembers, and her only companions are a chilly, inattentive mother, two peculiar uncles, a pale, reserved cousin, and the two crows her father sent from some faraway port. Once, the Rathbone family was much larger, a great whaling enterprise with dozens of members, but something happened to reduce it to this. Mercy doesn't know what, but after an unexpected discovery about her mother brings on a desperate journey, she's going to find out. As Mercy charts the mythic, almost magical rise and fall of the Rathbones, she reveals an unsettling world of deprivation, drive, and despair: the world, not only of the Rathbones, but of all who make a living from the sea. As a grand metaphor and an exercise in mythmaking, THE RATHBONES, by turns charming and disturbing, has much to offer. But the lack of fleshed-out individual characters and the fundamental sameness of certain flashbacks prevent the novel from reaching its full potential.

I don't think the cover copy makes clear that this is a mythic novel not merely in telling a grand story with structural echoes of various Greek legends, but in involving events so unlikely-- long lives, peculiar births, extraordinary talents-- they must almost be supernatural. These elements might, in other hands, make for a richly atmospheric novel, but described in Janice Clark's prose, which is clear and elegant but not especially vivid, their potential is somewhat diluted. Strong passages alternate with tedious ones; you can only read so many carefully-crafted but hollow descriptions of maritime-influenced architecture. It doesn't help that the stories of previous Rathbone generations are, thematically speaking, all one story: of men treating women as property and women learning to survive that mistreatment. This is powerful material, but to be done justice it demands psychologically credible characters, and Clark's creations lack that depth. Unlike protagonists in the best mythic fiction, they work only as thematic tools, not as individuals. Despite a lovely passage near the end that offers a kind of generalized truth, the complex ways in which men and women negotiated the harshness of the whaling life remains unexplored.

Still, in its best passages, from Mercy's happy days aboard ship to the rude awakening of one of patriarch Moses Rathbone's many wives, this is a thoroughly engaging novel. The broadly-drawn characters are as charming as those of genuine nineteenth-century fiction, and the echoes of Greek and Judeo-Christian religious stories make the tale of the Rathbones feel genuinely vast and portentous. At times the plot momentum seems to have been lost, but then an unexpected twist or delightful set-piece (like Mercy's visit to the in-laws) livens things up again. There's real pleasure too in following along as Mercy fills in her genealogical chart, drawing the unbelievably tangled lines that connect the generations. It is on those terms, as an old-fashioned saga with an eerie twist, one more whaling yarn, that THE RATHBONES is most successful, and can most profitably be read.
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The Rathbones
The Rathbones by Janice Clark (Paperback - May 6, 2014)
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