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Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  43,123 ratings  ·  2,726 reviews
A magnificent, vast, and enthralling saga, Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife is a remarkable epic spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby Dick, it is the story of Una, exiled as a child to live in a lighthouse, removed from the physical and emotional abuse of a religion-mad father. It is the romantic adventure of a young woman setti ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published September 22nd 1999)
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Thomas Jr. "Moby Dick" has been one of my favorite books for years and years, and when I first learned that there was a novel coming out with the title "Ahab's W…more"Moby Dick" has been one of my favorite books for years and years, and when I first learned that there was a novel coming out with the title "Ahab's Wife," I thought the whole idea was absurd. Ahab is such a chillingly majestic figure that I couldn't imagine him in any social arrangement as intimate and personal as marriage. I simply couldn't imagine his finding a woman who could command his notice, respect, or interest any more than I could imagine him in a relationship of convention or convenience with a "normal" woman. It was like imagining a spouse for Beowulf, or Gandalph, or Darth Vader. As a result, Naslund's managing to invent such a woman struck me as little short of miraculous. That's what I enjoyed most-- the brilliance of inventing a plausible character who filled that impossible bill. (To be honest, it's really fun that her bold heroine is a cross-dresser, a lot like Shakespeare's strongest women!) I also loved her seamless incorporation of the history of the whale ship Essex.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
John Haggerty The man in black was Nathaniel Hawthorne. The line that he and Una discuss is from a Hawthorne story called "The Village Uncle".…moreThe man in black was Nathaniel Hawthorne. The line that he and Una discuss is from a Hawthorne story called "The Village Uncle".(less)

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May 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 21, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 of st ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  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
Apr 18, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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.
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This was not my first read from Naslund, nor will it be my last.

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 folks that th
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
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
May 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  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
“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
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
This had everything the author could think of in an insomniac night-- Strong women, the ocean, whales, slavery, strong atheism, menstrual cycles, homosexuality, rape, cannibalism, sodomy, dwarfs, Native Americans, and poetry all in the early 19 century... anything, just name it and she said it.
I gave it 3.5 stars because it was intellectually engaging and it flowed very well. By the time I got to page 500ish chapter 117ish I was done with the book. The story was done. Nothing else to add or to
Apr 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
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 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book, which is rich in detail and spans a long period of time and several locations. It's written from the viewpoint of a girl as she grows up and her most unusual experiences, much of it having to do with the whaling industry as the book goes on, in the time of Moby Dick. Highly recommend the book. I couldn't wait to get back to it while reading it. ...more
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
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Judy by: Gaeta1
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
Nov 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
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 with an extensively wandering stor
Lisa Dunckley
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
First of all, I love a book with a great opening line: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” Second of all, I love books where the author takes some little known character in literature or history, and with the framework of what IS known, writes a whole story about that person. Philippa Gregory has done it with great success with her books about wives, daughters, mistresses, and sisters of kings. Orson Scott Card did it with Women In Genesis series (women in the bible whose me ...more
Apr 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Jamie by: Bookgroup
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Book Concierge
Opening line: Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.

Melville’s classic Moby Dick contains perhaps three or four sentences that reference Ahab’s wife – “… not three-voyages wedded – a sweet, resigned girl…” – but those brief references were enough to inspire Neslund to write this tome.

Una is a marvelous character: intelligent, forthright, adventurous, eager to learn, ready to work, open to new ideas, questioning of the status quo, tenacious, principled, loyal and loving. Nesl
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
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
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
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,
Victoria Weinstein
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
Awful book--- the author is trying way too hard to be a haughty, serious writer. The sentence structure is ridiculous - the characters flat and the end result is a scattered jumble of words put together in an attempt to impress rather than tell a story.

This is filled with overly verbose, superfluous hyberpole that meanders endlessly through each and every paragraph.

It ends up like the worst writing assignment gone bad-- the author has no filter, no ability to focus. Instead, the reader is subj
Dec 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in history and learning about wonderful places to visit
Shelves: bad-trip, hf, race, favorites, usa
This book is about Nantucket, one of the most wondeful places on this earth! If you are one of the people who could NOT get through Moby Dick by Melville, here is the same story seen through the eyes of Ahab's wife. While Moby Dick is impossible to get through, this book you cannot put down! A wonderful story. The book is full of historical facts relevant to the 1800s, whaling and Nantucket. Yopu will fall in love with Nantucket, and the story is marvelous. ...more
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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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