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The Rathbones

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,376 ratings  ·  318 reviews
A literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark's gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.

Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving mem
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Doubleday
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3.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,376 ratings  ·  318 reviews

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Dec 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This may have been the weirdest book I have ever read. And I've read a lot of really weird books.

Some topics covered in this book:

-basic carpentry
-pickling techniques
-sperm whale anatomy
-wife swapping

It's just a multitude of creepiness, yet I couldn't put it down. It was completely surreal, absolutely weird, and at times more than a bit icky, and yet I really enjoyed it and was bummed that it stopped.

It follows the adventures of Mercy as she uncovers the s
So. An interesting and incredibly juicy premise of a whaling family wholly populated by and due to incest, an adventure that span multiple islands with old enigmatic people working at looms, crazy old people filling their house with beauty because they themselves have none, a Penelope like woman supposedly waiting for a husband that left 10 years ago following the whales, a Charles Darwin type naturalist who has spent his entire life in a dark attic, a number of women blessed with extraordinary ...more
From The Millions article:
The Rathbones by Janice Clark: The Rathbones is the most sui generis debut you’re likely to encounter this year. Think Moby-Dick directed by David Lynch from a screenplay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez…with Charles Addams doing the set design and The Decembrists supplying the chanteys. Initially the story of the last surviving member of an eccentric 19th-Century whaling dynasty, it becomes the story of that dynasty itself. I should also say that this was the single most exci
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
2 stars - Meh. Just ok.

Have you ever ordered something from a restaurant, and when the waiter sets down your dish you instantly knew they had served the wrong entree? And then when you tell the surly waiter, "No, I ordered XYZ", they replied, "but that IS XYZ". Yeah, this book was like that.

I was expecting historical fiction with a touch of magical realism, and while those ingredients are present, it also ended up being an incredibly creepy, sometimes strange, but most of the time boring book...
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best novels I've read in the past year ... it's part historical novel, allegory, 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
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it

Such a great read! The Rathbone's is an unusual and unique tale. It was like reading a classic -- it has a courageous heroine named Mercy (a coming-of-age whaling dynasty heiress) amid gorgeous language of ships and sea; descriptions so engaging and naturally vivid I was surprised to not find sea mist and fog (and crows) out my window. Yet, this novel also had a boldly strange twist that is hard to define (some are calling David Lynch-esque). At times, it had me looking up and around from my boo
In its basic concepts, the book comes down to a story about the Rathbones, a whaling family, their wives and descendants. It covers about 100 years, from the mid 1700’s to the mid 1800”s. The book is narrated by Mercy Rathbone, as she and Mordechai Rathbone, whom we meet as her cousin and tutor, search for her father and brother who had disappeared years ago. We discover the history of the family, side by side with them, basically by piecing together journals, logs, conversations, and interviews ...more
Debra Hennessey
I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads. I really wanted to like it but I couldn't find anything to care about in the characters or the story. The mix of history and fantasy just didn't work. It seemed lifeless and contrived. Having said that I know I'm a minority opinion so it could be your cup of tea.
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: East Coast Gothic aficianados

After completing this book, I felt I had just stepped off that Mr. Toad ride at Disneyland. Funky and freaky. Gothic and nautical. Squirmy and psychedelic.

Hit me with your rhythm stick!

Using the travels of Odysseus as her broomstick, Janice Clark has created a gothic seaboard world of dubious ancestral ties and longings not fully understood by the story's young heroine. Saltwater may just as well be swishing on the paper, because the sea is everywhere, pulling the characters and the reader back
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
A book that is basically entertaining but bothered me so much. There are passages such as "a honeymoon on which he traveled only to her golden cove" - (maybe just a difference in taste). Clark skipped the realism part of magic realism. Comments about a school of flounder swimming at the top of deep water ( a much larger creature passing deep below them), manatees in Connecticut, Penguins at the North Pole (this is somewhat vindicated later), characters speaking of Mendel's experiments a few year ...more
Diane S ☔
May 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Mercy is the last of the Rathbones, a whaling family of over 100 years, and she and her uncle Mordecei are on the run. Her father disappeared years ago and she thinks she remembers a brother, but no one will talk about him. When she finds her mother, on the widow walk carnally engaged by another man, who spots Mercy and chases her, she and Mordecei take the skiff and leave their home.

This novel is said to be a combination of the Odyssey, Moby Dick with trace of Poe and I can see the comparisons
Isaac Alder
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Rathbones was a true delight, from start to finish, and earned a well-deserved 4 Stars. The debut novel by Janice Clark captured a fantastic, almost magical quality harkening back to The Odyssey with a classic Gothic twist. Some things were better than others, all of which I discuss below.

To check out more of my book reviews, please visit my blog:

- From the outset, Clark paints a very vivid, albeit bleak, picture of this strange world. A reader does not
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
All I can say is, WOW! Just, wow! Janice Clark has written a truly unique and engrossing novel, and I found myself staying up late at night, eager to race towards the ending! The Rathbones is a mesmerizing tale of a secretive and bizarre family of whalers and sea captains living in coastal Connecticut in the mid-1800s. It's the story of 15-year-ols Mercy Rathbone, marooned in a large and solitary home with a melancholy and perhaps mentally ill mother, and a variety of strange relatives. Mercy pe ...more
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grownups
this book is not for the faint of heart.

do not read this if you are going to compare it to every whaling story, family epic, or magical realisism novel that you maybe perhaps remember reading for some college class or another.

because really? those are those books, and this is this book. and you are no longer the person you once were, when you read (or pretended to read) all those other books.

do not read this if you are going to be squeamish about the roles of women, or the limitations that men
Aug 29, 2013 rated it did not like it
Finished this in September but hadn't had a chance to add a few comments. First, I was completely duped into buying this book at the bookstore because 1. I loved the cover and 2. There was a little blurb by Erin Morgenstern right on the front. I should know by now not to fall for these, but, I did.

Anyhow, this is the strangest book (and not strange in a good way, but just plain bizarre.) It's goes through several generations of a family that is both polygamist and incestuous and for the most pa
Ashley Arthur
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won a copy of this book from GoodReads giveaway listed by Doubleday.

Mercy Rathbone knows almost nothing about her family. Her father disappeared during a whaling excursion. Mama is cold and distant, preferring to create sculptures from whale bones than to educate her daughter. Mercy’s twin brother, whose name she has never known, is dead, and the only thing Mama will say about him is, “He was too small, so we threw him back.” Mercy’s uncle and tutor, Mordecai, dissects specimens and memorizes
Bonnie Brody
Jul 14, 2013 rated it liked it
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 Me ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've seen this book described as Moby Dick meets David Lynch. As a consumer of all of David Lynch's work, I'm not sure it's a great comparison. More Jane Campion than Lynch, I think. I guess it's a little like Moby Dick because it takes place in early New England and because there are whales.

This is a book for those who like their historical fiction with a touch of surrealism. Despite getting off to a slow start, and containing passages so vague I was almost lost, I enjoyed this book. Essential
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
audio book

I picked this up only because of Erin Morgenstern's blurb. It is a marvelous book, but not one I will recommend to everyone. It is moody and weird and confusing (especially in the beginning). But so very good at the same time. I think I might have liked it earlier if I had been reading it instead of listening to it because it skips around in time periods and if you aren't paying close attention it is easy to get lost. But now, almost at the end, I am loving the story and the characters
When I read about this a few months ago, I was super excited and ordered it for my library and suggested it for my book club. Now I feel bad about all those things. The elements for something amazing are all here, but the text is an absolute chore to get through. I kept reading this only for the purpose of having something to say at the book club. While there are some enjoyable parts, and even very occasionally some lovely writing, the majority is tedious and boring. I read plenty of books about ...more
Jan 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book has a theme song that is repeated throughout, but I have given it a different one: “I’m My Own Grandpaw.” There’s just so. much. incest. While I could see the reasoning behind most of it, it was a big turn-off that wasn't helped by the fact that I didn't like much else about the book either. I’m giving this one star because the writing was good, but the plot was boring, and there were no likeable characters. The only reason I tried to finish this was because I was reading it for a book ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
As a previous reviewer said it is a very bizarre book. It chases its tail around, rather like a dog, not a whale. The Rathbone family whether in England or in North America were from moneyed stock, in reality, and were hardy and prospered. Now for some spoiler alerts: The book also makes for confusion and while the narrator, Mercy, has some of her questions answered, that she didn't vocally ask and one feels should have tried harder to, there are more questions for the reader, maybe just this re ...more
Feb 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Morons go sailing....

So let me back up and tell a short story. My dad picked up The Heart of the Sea in an airport bookstore and read it on a plane. He got home, asked if I wanted it, and I said sure. (Is there any other answer when someone offers you a book?) Then he told me that it wasn't great, and that he thought a better title would have been Morons Go Sailing. I have this thing about reading every book I own/am given, and The Heart of the Sea really didn't look too long, so I read it. Yup:
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, horror
This has no bearings in actual history, except the whaling parts. Just getting that out there right now, because if I don't you all are going to think that Connecticut's one weird fucking place.

I've also had The Rathbones in my possession since last June, I think, and just never got around to it until recently. I wanted a sea story, and this was the closest thing on my shelf to that. I've been having good luck lately with reading the books that have been festering on my shelf, haven't I?

I was o
Paul Pessolano
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
“The Rathbones” by Janice Clark, published by Doubleday.

Category – Fiction/Literature Publication Date – August 06, 2013

“The Rathbones” is the story of a whaling family in New England during the height of the whaling industry. The story follows the plight of the family from when they made a fortune from hunting whales to when whaling no longer was a profitable industry.

The story is told through the eyes of Mercy Rathbone, who is now the sole remaining member of the family. Mercy tells her story
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not for the first time, I wish that GoodReads offered a half-star option, because this book really deserves more than four stars; in fact, I've delayed reviewing this book for more than a week because I couldn't decide which way to go (I know...get a life, right?!!). I've opted for the lower rating because I wasn't captivated by this book from the very beginning—in fact, I thought it was very odd and only persisted because I had a feeling that reading it would be worth the investment—and also be ...more
Jul 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
First off, of course, I did recieve a free, first reads copy of this book.

This book seemed to me a series of WTF moments…seriously. I was reading along and between pages of description and a seemingly pointless character’s journey, I would stumble upon flashbacks full of confusing and borderline disturbing things. Not at all what I was expecting. I would finish a section of the book and have to set it aside for a moment to process what the author had just revealed, most times just thinking “did
Alex Charest
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
A subtle, mysterious book that shoots itself in the leg in one of the final chapters when the main character decides that a MASSIVE expository infodump is in order. Despite that, however, still a thoroughly captivating read, one you really can't look away from -- its get in your head, even when you would rather it didn't. Fans of the Odyssey, Moby Dick, and gothic fiction will particularly appreciate this one.

I'm a little disappointed by the ending -- by the infodump as well as by several charac
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was kind of whacked. Mercy, and her travels put me in mind of Alice in Wonderland at times. I was kind of fascinated with the whole thing. I've always had an interest in New England whaling, and more in the sea or going to sea itself. I'm descended from a crusty sailor named Phineas Pratt. I know when I'm ramped up, I need to sit by the water and it takes me down several notches. This is a generational book, with a bunch of nutty characters. I developed a fondness for old Bemus, more t ...more
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Plot 1 3 Feb 01, 2018 11:07AM  
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Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Connecticut (land of whaling and pizza) and has lived in Montreal, Kansas City, San Francisco, and New York, where she earned an MFA in writing at NYU. Her short fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz and The Nebraska Review and her design work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art. The Rathbones, which she also illu ...more
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“I had looked into the distance so long that I hadn't seen what was near at hand. If we don't cherish those who stay near, what do we have? Only longing. Longing which we grow to love because it's all we have.” 7 likes
“If we don't cherish those who stay near, what do we have? Only longing.” 0 likes
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