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Ahab's Wife: Or, the Star-Gazer

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  29,804 ratings  ·  2,083 reviews
From the opening line--"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last"--you will know that you are in the hands of a masterful storyteller and in the company of a fascinating woman hero. Inspired by a brief passage in Melville's Moby-Dick, where Captain Ahab speaks passionately of his young wife on Nantucket, Una Spenser's moving tale "is very much Naslund's own an ...more
Paperback, 666 pages
Published October 3rd 2000 by Harper Perennial (first published 1999)
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Ick. I hated this book. I felt that the author was basically living out her own fantasy of being adored by these historical and fictional men. I mean, she even finds a way to work in Hawthrone and Emerson having a crush on her. It's the kind of book where the heroine stands on the deck of ships (or ports, or lighthouses) with her hair blowing in the wind a lot. All men want her. She survives great hardship with her noble spirit intact. And she has an intelligent, sensitive soul that is eventuall ...more
Mar 07, 2008 Mary rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: english majors, marine biologists,
Whoa-finally finished this baby. Reading this is quite an investment in time; at least 1000 words could easily be sliced out to create a more coherent epic.

Word of warning; whenever you have a novel, based on an american classic (and an infamously difficult one at that) written by an english professor, you can expect literary symbolism to abound. In this case, I think the author gets caught up in her own cleverness; she throws everything but the kitchen sink at us.

Freedom or "Liberty" seem to
A stunning, magnificent book!--Certainly in my top 10 ever!--great story, great characters, big ideas, & colorful writing that, like Jane Smiley's book about Bleeding Kansas, evokes the language of its period while also speaking in a distinctive voice to our own time. The narrator is the wife of Ahab, captain of the Pequod of Moby Dick fame. It's about several things, but principally about, I think, a woman "choosing life"--choosing her own path in the world and affirming life in the midst o ...more
Aug 22, 2007 Marin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book clubs
The first portion of this book was fascinating and well-written. Naslund's imagining of the details of the ill-fated travels of Captain Ahab and his wife are picturesque, with just the right gothic touches thrown in to lend horror where horror should be.

I liked the main character and was rooting for her... until the return to the States after the grotesque voyage that sent Ahab over the edge.

For some reason, Naslund chose to focus on the literati and cognoscenti of the era instead of simply cont
I must thank Louis Bayard for mentioning this book in an interview. I might not yet have read it if it weren't for him - and I am most appreciative. What an amazing book! I do feel inclined to return to Moby Dick once more, and this time to read it through. This book is complete even if Melville's novel never existed. But how cleverly Naslund makes connections to Melville's story, without repeating in any way what Melville told.
Una is an outstanding character. I savored this book because of her.
I COULD NOT STAND this book - it was torture for me to get through. There was SO MUCH uneccesary in it - it made me not care about ANY of it. She touched on just about every issue you can imagine: cannibalism, incest, homosexuality,death,insanity,women'rights,slavery,religion - you name it, it was in here.I was SOOO annoyed with this woman!!!! I am convinced she read Moby Dick one night, went to sleep and had one of those crazy meandering dreams where things she saw on the news and famous people ...more
Oct 27, 2007 Triffany rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Moby Dick Fans
When I started reading this book, I was thinking, "How could anyone give this any fewer than 4 to 5 stars?!?!" The writing was so beautiful and the world through the main character's eyes, although difficult, was beautiful and new and she was chameleon-esque changing and adapting to every day that she faced.

I was fascinated through most of it, wondering at how a person (even a fictional one) could continue to live life so far removed from her 'self'; her ego. She truly discovered the land, the l
I'm an English major who never read Moby Dick, but I did recognize the iconic characters on the periphery of Una's (Ahab's wife) epic. And what a story it is! Written in the vernacular of Herman Melville and Ralph Waldo Emerson, I learned much about 19th century Nantucket, whaling, and typical hardships of that time. Historic characters believably showed up in this novel, but Una was always central. I made a friend in her.
“Captain Ahab was not my first husband nor my last.”

Oh come on. Of course I had to quote the first line.

This book is derived from a single, glancing reference in Moby-Dick to the beautiful young woman Captain Ahab has married. This is Una Spencer’s story, in her own words. The book is massive, complex, written as a companion, a tribute, an argument, a twentieth-century female response to a nineteenth-century male book. It’s couched in the Moby-Dick style, from the choppy chapters to the capital
A Ship is a Breath of Romance
That Carries Us Miles Away.
And a Book is a Ship of Fancy
That Could Sail on Any Day

There you have it. This is why books are better than ships. Well, maybe not this book...

Almost nine months ago, my book club picked this one as the February read, so I had plenty of time to read it. And I had the best intentions. I ordered a used copy last October, a nice first-edition hardback, heavy as any doorstop. I glanced at it and put it in my stack. Plenty of time to read it, no
This was not my first book from Naslund, nor will it be my last.... haha.

I loved this book! I'll address some of the other readers complaints to start.

The style of prose is, in my opinion, in keeping with the time period represented. There is significant, expressive detail, tons of imagery, so if you find that annoying, this book is not for you. You probably will also not like Steinbeck, Dickens, Wharton, Bronte....

As far as too much "stuff" included in the storyline, I would remind those folk
This book became my addition for quite some time. Even though I read it some 2 years ago, it took residence in my being and here I am still thinking of it fondly enough to write my review!

I am fascinated by Naslund's ability to select a seemingly insignificant reference in the classic, Moby Dick, and give it breath. The sensory experience of the printed word was at times emotionally wrenching and at times dread dull, as you might expect when sitting down to listen to the life story of a legend.
Apr 22, 2008 Rebecca rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: secret bees fans?
Recommended to Rebecca by: Pam at fort flaggler
Shelves: i-quit
I really tried on this one but it was irritating. A string of random adventures designed to heighten the female character whose validity is tied to strong, male characters, both fictional and real ( the poetic walk-in-the-woods was the last straw). The narration was a pain and overall unlikeable, so I quit, the first in years.
Lynne King
I had seen Melki’s review on this book and it was so interesting, even though her rating was not that high, and so I purchased it. Melki just has a way with reviews…

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last. Yet, looking up – into the clouds – I conjure him there: his gray-white hair; his gathered brow; and the zaggy mark…”

This was the beginning of the book and the words were more or less meaningless to me then but I continued; well they were just words and so I started skim-reading
I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book when I first started reading it, but I really did. The book is a long one (nearly 700 pages, if memory serves), but it's rather engrossing. For me, it didn't have a section where I had to force myself to continue reading because I was bored (that sometimes happens to me). The characters are appealing, the plot is engaging (a little unbelievable at times, but I think that was intentional), and it's well-written. I particularly enjoyed what I would g ...more
How do I begin to say everything I want to say about this book both good and not-so-good?

First of all, I would recommend that before you read it, consider that it is over 600 pages long and there is cannibalism. If you still are eager to read it, there are plenty of things to recommend about this book.

To start with; the writing is gorgeous. Naslund heads up a writing program at a college in Kentucky and I can see why. She writes
Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazerwith a style that contains a Melville
The author takes a minor character out of the classic Moby Dick and writes a complete story about her. Una's 2nd husband in the early 19th century is Captain Ahab. This is an historically accurate, if farfetched, story of a free thinking young woman. Learn about the era, the difficulties, the religions adn superstitions, the sea and its impact on the New Englanders' lives, etc. A good read.
A very complex read. I learned that sailor's historically wore golden earrings because wherever they died the earring would pay for their burial.

I learned about survival of one sort or another: sustenance living on a remote farm in Kentucky; sustenance living at the site of a lighthouse; sustenance living on a whaler and sustenance living while stranded on a raft with two men you love and others. Ah me.

There was, of course, my fascination with the houses that Ahab's wife lived within. The cabin,
May 20, 2008 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Jamie by: Bookgroup
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There...I have finished it. It was like reading someone's diary. Too long, too detailed, and monotonous in tone. No suspense, unless you don't know the end of Moby Dick, no ebb or flow. It just reads, slowly and laboriously for 666 pages in first person of a woman that doesn't exist. If this were about a real person, I would consider this valid. If it were a reflection of the hardships of being a captain's wife or a seamstress in the 1800's, I would also give it merit. But instead we have an ext ...more
I loved the build-up of this novel - knowing that Una will eventually marry Ahab, but not knowing how that will come about made for a great sense of anticipation. The story of her childhood and growing up was also fascinating, particularly the parts of the story set at the lighthouse. However, once Big Things Happen and Una meets Ahab, I lost a little of that sense of anticipation and lost a little interest, even though I still thought the characters and plot were compelling. I just wasn't as ho ...more
May 27, 2009 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Lee Aiken
This book is traveling from Canada to Brazil, following to Sweden and then back to Canada. There are not enough words to describe such wonderful book, one of the best books I read recently. The author has a lyrical way of writing and we are strongly immersed into the story.
The Star-Gazer is a gorgeous read, richly satisfying and one that I am very sorry to close. Naslund has illustrated, in Una, a real American heroine. From her childhood machinations of the lighthouse Giant to her days high in the crow's nest of a ship, to the Eastern towns she visits and the fascinating characters she meets, Una was a protagonist I was thrilled to follow at every turn.

Sena Jeter Naslund has such a remarkable gift for lyricism in her prose: visualizing each scene was so natural,
Take my advice: read the first 100 pages of this (can't give you a really accurate count, unfortunately), and then stop, STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOODNESS, STOP, before the main character gets on the ship, or at least midway through, and you will be so much happier that you did, although you will forever wonder what happened and then end up disregarding my advice. That's way before Ahab even enters the story, but c'est la vie, poppet.

Written with lovely prose, and a with extensively wandering story
I'd like to believe I'm nearly as strong, forgiving, compassionate, thoughtful, open & positively persistent as my identically named sister is in this moving novel which, interestingly, pays tribute to the strength of women during a time when they had to take triumph if they sought it. Deep tones, period language, fascinating philosophical, religious & political paths, artistic & scientific pursuits, whale-hunting thrills & dangers, life on & by the sea, and physical & sp ...more
In this sometimes overwhelming take on the Ahab story, using a few characters from the classic novel, Sena Jeter Naslund visits the life of Una, the wife of Captain Ahab, and the time she spends with her Captain is surprisingly gentle and romantic. The two of them don't truly find one another until about halfway through the novel, however. The beginning of Una's life is just as interesting, though in different ways. She is born in Kentucky, lives for several years with a lighthouse-keeping famil ...more
Kim Godard
I loved the use of language. It's always amazing to me how someone with a masterful command of the language can take the same words you and I use daily and string them together in ways that make us entertain ideas we've never thought before, remind us of feelings we've had (but couldn't describe) in the past, and clarify muddled parts of our lives. Naslund does that at many junctures. However, that being said, I often found myself irritated: how many 19th century names can we drop in one story? ...more
Enjoyed this book, even though it was very long and sometimes a bit difficult to read. It read in a very lyrical & poetic way which does make for some slower reading. Una was a very strong female character who seemed to find the resources to do what she wanted in the time period of which she lived. She didn't seem to live by the rules of her society and met and befriended many interesting people including a runaway slave, bounty hunter, scientists, etc. She seemed to live a full life and was ...more
I really, really disliked this book, which I feel is saying a lot. I can't remember the last time I was ready for a book to be over when I was only halfway through it. I was intrigued by the premise. In this book we are given the story of Ahab's wife, Una. Ahab, if that name isn't familiar, is the obsessed whaleboat captain in Moby Dick. As I think about it now, the title is a bit misleading. I would say that only 1/3 to 1/4 of the book actually spends time on Una's marriage with Ahab. I digress ...more
Victoria Weinstein
I just moved to an ocean-side city in Eastern Massachusetts, so this book was a fun companion to this time of settling in near the sea.

I have to agree with the reviewers who faulted this book for following the "strong, beautiful woman that all the men fall in love with" trope and for its "Forest Gumpian" qualities. The novel definitely suffers from ridiculous levels of coincidence where the heroine's life touches that of far too many famous 19th century figures ("Oh, I was walking in the woods l
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Sena Jeter Naslund is the New York Times best-selling author of five novels, including Ahab's Wife (1999) and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (HarperCollins, 2006). She is currently Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville and program director of the Spalding University brief-residency Master in Fine Arts in Writing. Recipient of the Harper Le ...more
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“If you meet a woman of whatever complexion who sails her life with strength and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead.” 799 likes
“Great minds may have cold hearts. Form but no color. It is an incompleteness. And so they are afraid of any woman who both thinks and feels deeply.” 105 likes
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