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The Seal Wife

3.22 of 5 stars 3.22  ·  rating details  ·  455 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Stunning, hypnotic, spare, The Seal Wife is the masterly new novel by Kathryn Harrison, “a writer of extraordinary gifts” (Tobias Wolff). Set in Alaska in 1915, it tells the story of a young scientist’s consuming love for a woman known as the Aleut, a woman who never speaks, who refuses to reveal so much as her name.

Born and educated in midwestern cities, Bigelow is sent n
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ebook, 0 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Random House (first published January 1st 2002)
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raheleh mansoor
Alaska. It seems I've read a few books recently to do with this frozen and dramatic country (see my glowing review for No Night is Too Long). The Seal Wife is set in frontier Alaska, and follows the story of a young meteorologist and his lovestruck obsession with a native woman in a time and place where women are truly scarce. But reading this was like going to one of those fancy, spare restaurants you know you're supposed to be impressed by, but frankly just leave you hungry and a bit grossed o ...more
Jennifer
I came across this book completely by accident -- the title caught my eye when I was sitting in the library. I picked it up and read the whole thing in an afternoon. It's a mesmerizing, atmospheric story of obsession set in the Alaskan frontier. The setting drew me in right away, as did Bigelow's obsession with a woman who refuses to speak, then mysteriously disappears. Harrison captures Bigelow's longing so perfectly it made me ache right along with him as I turned the pages. I'll definitely be ...more
Jean
This is one of those books that I’m glad I can review other reader’s impressions of- and they certainly run the gamut. It’s a book that on face value seems to be what Bookmaniac noted “Nothing interesting happens during the whole story.” But then Maggie & Nicole kick it up a notch. Maggie posts “Two of the major themes of this book are sound and silence. Music is both a succor and means by which the weather station gets built. The women in the book are either silent, and their means of and r ...more
Maggie
Rating 4-1/2. This very unusual novel is the story of Bigelow, a young mid-western man who is sent to Anchorage, Alaska in 1915 to establish a weather station. He arrives without the barest necessities or knowledge of what is expected of him, thinking that there is an established station, and when he realizes the situation he has to find the land to put the station on, arrange and pay for the construction at horribly inflated prices and in a place where most of the supplies he requires don't exi ...more
Bookmaniac70
Synopsys:

"It is 1915 when Bigelow, a young scientist, is dispatched to build a weather observatory in Anchorage. He is optimistic and enthusiastic, little realizing what life will be like in an arctic railroad town peopled by men and precious few women. The nights are endless and lonely.

Before long he is held sway by a seemingly unknowable woman, Aleut. She is not his only obsession - he designs a kite intended to fly higher than any kite has ever flown."

I wasn`t impressed by this book. The wri
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Kirsten
As the mother of three small children, I have to snatch my reading moments, and quite often I can only read three or so pages at a time. This book is kind of perfect for this style of reading, as nothing much happens but it is so beautifully written that each page is a pleasure.
Essentially it is a book about sexual obsession and loneliness, I think. Bigelowe is a very young man who works as a meteorologist in Alaska during the period of WWI in Europe. At the time, Alaska is a wild frontier, a b
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Ally Armistead
Just finished reading Kathryn Harrison's "The Seal Wife," and still trying to make head or tails of it.

Unquestionably, the novel is beautifully written, reminiscent of the "grotesque beauty" of Spanish magical realism (lots of gorgeous detail on not-so-gorgeous items, including the smells of groins and feet and erections, and the oddly shaped gaps and bodies of lovers).

Somehow, though, despite this admirable and beautifully gritty feat, Harrison's spare, lean narrative of a scientist obsessed
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Andrea Dowd
"The Seal Wife" is one of those books that seems to have potential and then 60 pages in, you're wondering why you're still reading it. The premise is that a young man, Bigelow, is sent up to 1915-era Alaska to set up a weather station. He randomly takes up with a non-communicative native Aleut woman who soon after, leaves without a trace. Aside from the sometimes lovely prose about sounds or the absence of sound, there is nothing I found to like about this story. The background and development o ...more
Sarah Sammis
The Seal Wife is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I just finished it and I wish there was more to read! It's a rather minimalist book with short chapters and sparse dialogue. It uses vignettes to pull the story along. As the book is mostly from inside Bigelow's mind, a self defined loner who is in Anchorage to forecast and study the weather, the book's minimalism beautifully captures the experience of being alone among others, an observer given time to absorb the surroundings and ...more
Theresa Sjoquist
The Seal Wife - Kathryn Harrison

Fourth Estate Fiction

Kathryn Harrison's latest novel is set in Anchorage, Alaska. The year is 1915. Bigelow, product of an emotionally starved upbringing, has been ordered by the Weather Bureau for whom he works, to open up for them in Alaska. He must set up a weather forecasting station in the frozen frontier town of Anchorage, a town with it's feet still in the mud, without a port, with only a handful of women and over 3,000 men.

Industrious and intent, Bigelow s
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Robin
At first, Bigelow's story is mesmerizing, hypnotic. Then, it is impatient, then tedious, like a winter life without conversation. I'll have to think about this one for a while before I know what to say about it.

I've sat on this one for 2 days, trying to decide what to think about The Seal Wife. Here's what I love: What an interesting and unique topic! Weather prediction science in Alaska on the cusp of World War One! Growing boomtowns, the slow sprawl of the railroads. The descriptions, the feel
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Philippa
Review published in the New Zealand Herald, 26 October 2002

The Seal Wife
Kathryn Harrison
(Fourth Estate, $31.95)

reviewed by Philippa Jamieson

American author Kathryn Harrison has received acclaim for her writing, including four novels and a memoir. Her latest novel, set in Alaska in 1915, is seen through the eyes of Bigelow, a scientist sent to Anchorage to observe and record the weather.
Harrison has written a taut study of sexual obsession. Bigelow becomes fascinated by an Aleut woman, follows h
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Lisa
It is a short novel so I read the whole thing, although it is not a satisfying read. In a nutshell, Harrison tells us women, deeply unknowable, are insulated, slippery creatures that are capable of instilling pain upon the selfish men who place their lustful gaze upon them. Their weapon? A flaccid tongue. Bigelow's character wasn't compelling enough for me to care about his dilemma. I felt like I was being clubbed to death with all the psychosexual shenanigans.
Yvonne
A strange book, unlike anything I've read before. Set in a harsh, cold, empty environment, the style is equally minimalist and the themes of loneliness and silence fit the atmosphere. It is a tale of obsession and although nothing much happens and the characters are not fully developed, one is buoyed along by the beauty of the writing. Worth reading, if for nothing else, because it is so different and so well written. I'd give it an extra half star.
Anne
First problem: a female author but male lead character - that just never works for me. Second: I had no idea it would be all about this young man's obsession with having sex. I kept expecting something more to happen. People say it is a love story, but all I see is a man obsessed with having someone (anyone, it seems) to have sex with when he is trapped by his job in an Alaskan frontier town. Just icky.
Diane Dachota
A spare book , I finished it in one sitting. It is the fanciful tale of a man who moves to Alaska in 1915 to study and predict weather. He is lonely, cold and almost penniless and much of the book revolves around his quest for an Aleutian woman. I found the writing to be lyrical and beautiful, although the woman herself didn't seem real.
Sylvia
I give it three and a half stars. Kathryn Harrison is a great writer and I have read most of her novels and some of her non-fiction. She is very good at creating characters from various times throughout history. In this book her story is set in Alaska in the time right before WWI. The main character Bigelow comes north to track the weather for the U.S. government. While there he falls obsessively for a woman who does not speak who he calls the Aleut. Harrison's writing style was very spare in th ...more
Preeta
Also, I tried to hide, the way I might've if I'd been reading Danielle Steele standing up in the library, although this book is by no means Danielle Steele, not even close. Read it, though, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be a little bit ashamed of liking it as much as you do. It's stark, beautiful, literary smut. [UM, P.S., The title is THE SEAL WIFE and I'm not sure why GoodReads insists on calling it SEAL WIFE POSTER but the only other option was SEAL WIFE DUMPBIN and I don't know what a d ...more
nicole
Amazing.

Get a glimpse of Alaska circa 1914 when the railroad is on the brink of existence, which forces white people unto the lives of "Natives," as one white character says.

The idea of silenced women appears throughout Harrison's work. Here, in two ways.

Like Envy, the narrator is omniscient but the story "feels like" it belongs to the protagonist, Bigelow, a weather man of ancient proportions (um, he's no suit-wearin, smile-flashin Sam Champion).

Interesting parallels and twists. And sex.
Heidi Rose
I don't expect that many people or even anyone would agree with me, and I am not recommending this book as one that everyone should read because it is so good. On a personal level, this book was amazing, 5 stars, unique, and intimate. After reading it, I kept it with me for the remainder of my rental time and was truly sad to have to return it.

Sometimes, one comes along things they have no logical reason for loving so much, but they do. For me, this is one of those things.
Dana
I thought this book was too melodramatic, and I didn't identify with the main character. I too easily look at his character weaknesses (I won't go as far as to call them flaws...) and feel distanced from his experience. I don't feel satisfied with the ending, though I can't think of what would have made me satisfied. I was lacking in book choices at the time, and it kept me occupied enough that I didn't put it down, but I wouldn't echo the rave reviews that were on the back cover.
Coffeeboss
Written in a haunting spare style, The Seal Wife is the story of erotic obsession between a turn-of-the-century white meteorologist in small-town Alaska and a mysterious, wordless local native woman. The point of view is from the man, as he tries to concentrate on his work (creating weather kites and trying to predict the local weather) and his obsession with a woman he can't possess. I thought it was unusual and rather beautifully written.
Laurel
Another book that I was supposed to love and didn't...author touted as one of our best contemporary authors, yada yada yada. I should probably read another of her books to compare. This one was interesting - 1917 Alaska, weather bureau sends young man to staff a weather station there, he gets lonely, obssesses about (and has a physical affair with) a local woman who never speaks. Etc. For me, though, it was too spare - thus the "okay" rating.
Jana
I'd always wanted to read something by Kathryn Harrison. I found that although her writing itself is wonderful, the subjects seem to always be just too weird and obsessive, and usually about sex and this one fits that mold. I couldn't get interested in it and as it got more sad, lonely and obsessive I got less interested in the obsessed male character and decided to move on.
Maxine
I only really finished this to finish it. I didn't especially enjoy it. I do appreciate the fact that there were, as someone else said, 'lots of gorgeous details about not so gorgeous things' but it wasn't especially engrossing and not a style I enjoyed. I don't see the point of writing stories like this - I think a story should be a story, and this was a portrait.
Aley Martin
Kathryn Harrison spins an interesting fiction tale set in the early part of the 20th century in Alaska. The book centers on communication, lack of, difficulty in communicating and relationships. I did not like it as much as her non-fiction, but she does weave a very brilliantly descriptive tale and her choice of adjectives is compelling!
Kiessa
Not too far into this book I registered the fact that I found it revolting. Boring, not to be confused with subtle goings-on, and gross, (man sexually obsessed with women who do not speak or communicate, to such a degree that you wonder if they are even giving consent to relations). Just awful. (Proceed to shower).
Mary Kraeszig
The Seal Wife is not a spectacular book, but it's a quick read and worth the investment of a few hours. It presents a very unusual relationship between the main characters that makes one reflect on the interrelationships between verbal communication, non-verbal communication, sex, and love.
Rosalind
Very strange, intriguing, and interesting. Some very beautiful writing. One short chapter is one of the best action sequences I've every read; had me gasping for breath. At the end I was left wondering. Forced to write a paper on it, I might have a chance of figuring it out.
Jennifer
I think I read this book before but I don't really remember so I went ahead and read it again. It didn't really have much plot; it was more sensual and character development. I like plot and action and figuring things out. I did like the science and designing the kites.
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Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water.

She has also written memoirs, The Kiss and The Mother Knot, a travel memoir, The Road To Santiago, a biography, Saint Therese Of Lisieux, and a collection of personal essays, Seeking Rapture.

Ms. Harrison is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; her essay
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More about Kathryn Harrison...
The Kiss Enchantments The Binding Chair or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society Exposure Poison

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