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The Passages of H. M.: A Novel of Herman Melville

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  162 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
From the author of the international bestseller The Last Station, a stirring novel about the adventurous life and tragic literary career of Herman Melville.
As The Passages of H. M. opens, we see, through the eyes of his long-suffering wife Lizzie, an aging, angry, and drunken Herman Melville wreaking domestic havoc in his unhappy New York home. He is decades past his
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
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Sep 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtiqa

So many people did not enjoy this book. Aw. This is what got me interested in Herman Melville in the first place.

I picked this book up in the library because the cover looked really interesting - it was only after I brought it home that I realised I recognised the name. I thought the story was interesting, the narrative voice was lovely. It's a fictionalised piece, which I think leaves quite a lot of room for details and added touches that some historical biographers feel they are not allo
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Juliana by: library
You will enjoy this book if...
You believe that Moby-Dick is one of the great American novels.
You had an American Lit professor who made the book come alive for you. You are a writer who alternates between believing your own genius and falling into the depths that everyone is better than you.
You love a good adventure on the high seas.
You ever had an unrequited love that affected you deeply.
You had to put aside your Art to take a job in the real-world to pay real bills.
You wish you could sit at a
Nov 22, 2010 marked it as started-but-could-not-finish
It was easier to read "Moby Dick," which is what made me interested in reading this book, and even that I could only do once. I just could not get into this book. Maybe I'll try it again some day, but for now I'm giving up on this drag.
I’ve never read any Herman Melville and the only two things I knew about him before reading Jay Parini’s novel were that he wrote Moby Dick and that musician Moby is related to him. I now know much more about him thanks to reading this book, but have to say that I don’t much like the Melville portrayed in its pages.

The book tells us about Melville’s life, starting with his youthful journeys to sea and sojourns in the Pacific, then moving on to his literary life and career as an author. This narr
Alison Wassell
I have never read any of the works of Herman Melville and, having read this novel about his life, have no desire to do so. That is not to say that this is a bad book. It has clearly been meticulously researched, and Jay Parini paints a fascinating portrait of the author.

Melville led a varied and adventurous life, and his escapades at sea, his desertion in the Marquesas Islands and his brief stay with a cannibalistic tribe are all chronicled in great detail. Melville emerges as a tormented and u
Ron Charles
Dec 13, 2013 rated it liked it
The Irish hold up "Ulysses," the Russians cherish "War and Peace," and we point to "Moby-Dick" - those national monuments we revere but seldom visit. Face it: Herman Melville, the man who wrote the most famous opening line in American literature, is now largely unread. Call me crazy, but that's a damnable fate, the literary equivalent of being lost at sea.

Luckily, I had a high school English teacher who sailed us through the pages of "Moby-Dick" with the unwavering determination of Captain Ahab.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'll have to assume you need to be a super fan of Melville to enjoy his life...he was certainly a character. The author took many liberties to form the persona of his wife Lizzie who put up with way too much, drunkenness, money problems, his not well received published works, his lack of employment and not the most comforting of fathers, let alone supportive husband. The book went from his adventurous times on the high seas and the perspective of Lizzie; started soon before they started courting ...more
Ae Lynch
Mar 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Parini has written an arresting and intriguing fictional account of the life of Herman Melville. That he uses the novel format is perhaps surprising, yet the voyages and troubled relationships of Melville’s life provide suitable material for Parini’s writing. He uses the voice of Melville’s wife, Lizzie, and a third-person narrative, to alternate chapters. This also allows him to shift from different times in Melville’s life, giving the reader a textured approach to Melville and his eccentriciti ...more
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Passages of H.M. is a work of considerable imagination but not one for the reader to quickly settle into. The book involves the accumulation & piecing together of fragments of Herman Melville's life to create a functioning fictional model, rather than a traditional biography. The cast of characters from Melville's life are real enough but many of the actual intersections with the author are imagined in a way that I found quite effective.

This reconstruction of H.M. requires patience on th
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
- I generally love reading fictional "biographies" of writers and their inner lives, but this book was a drag to finish.
- Herman Melville is a literary master who looms large over the canon...For who has never heard of the famous Captain Ahab or MOBY DICK? (Few and far between, I would wager...)
- Though this book occasionally displays glimpses of tenderness, fascination and empathy into Melville's life, it was mostly a mostly tedious narrative about sea life and structured inoptimally,
Steven Clark
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've enjoyed Parini's The Apprentice Lover, and had a very enjoyable read with H.M. I remember reading Moby Dick three decades ago (better to have read then to be reading), and some stories, like Benito Cereno in college, and I admit Melville doesn't really grab me. I much prefer Parini. I liked his concise accounts of H.M., and his search for paradise and a male companion. Melville was frustrated in this, and I see it less as bisexuality then the writer's need to share his art and aesthetic exp ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jay Parini's writing is gorgeous, poetic, engaging and compelling. "Crossing Benjamin," his novelization of the last days of Walter Benjamin's life, during which the radical philosopher/man of letters "crossed" the Pyrenees attempting to flee Nazi persecution, is among my favorite books of all time. It cast such a potent spell on me that I didn't want the book to end and deliberately prolonged my reading of it. Perhaps I thought this strategy would help me prevent Benjamin's suicide.

Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: mar-apr-2011
Herman Melville's tormented soul comes to life through the prose of his wife, Lizzie, about whom very little is known in real life but who comes across as "a marvelous creation, a smoldering prisoner of bitterness and devotion, resentment and affection" (Washington Post). Any fictionalized biography of an elusive writer such as Herman Melville is certain to generate some controversy. Some critics found Parini's version of Melville's inner musings to be too much guesswork, although this may amoun ...more
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable, mostly sympathetic (fictional) narrative of Melville's life. This is no biography, nor does it attempt to be, but rather an attempt to blow life into a character most of us know only as a name on a book's cover (if even that). To Parini's credit, he brought us a Herman Melville who was not flat as paper he wrote on, but three-dimensional, with hopes, dreams, pain, happiness, and everything in between. While this wasn't exactly the Melville I've conjured in my own mind from reading ...more
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Parini captures with incredible clarity the Melville that any reader of our great novelist/poet would recognize. His linking HM with Odysseus is especially insightful, you can tell that Parini is both poet and novelist, just as Melville was. The sections on Melville's many 'passages' at sea, especially his trip to the Levant, were some of the best of the book. As a lifelong Melville reader, retired sailor and admirer of poetry, history and novels Professor Parini has captured all three in this o ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Although I have no interest in reading Melville's novels, I found myself very interested in reading this novel about his life. I was particularly interested in reading about the intense passion he felt towards other men throughout his life--homosocial male bonding, something apparently quite common among men, particularly literary men of the day, as well as among seafaring men--and his friendship with the perhaps enigmatic Nathaniel Hawthorne. HE would make an interesting topic for a novel. The ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I quite liked this "bio fict" about Melville's stormy life. It made me want to read Moby Dick again, and learn more about his friendship with Hawthorne. Parini is singularly talented in this area as was shown in his previous bio ficts about Tolstoy and Benjamin. He does not overreach, nor does he play the role of a psychoanalyst. Dialogues are natural sounding, descriptions are realistic and largely fact-checkable. He made up the story about Melville's (assumed) long suffering wife, but it works ...more
Jo Barton
I was delighted to be given the opportunity of reviewing this book for Real Readers.

Having not read any of Herman Melville’s books I faced this book with some trepidation, however, I found it to be an interesting fictional biography, which allowed a glimpse into the imagined life of this great author. The weightiness of the novel is lightened by the inclusion of Melville’s wife, Lizzie’s account of their life, which I found more interesting, than the third person narrative from Melville. The tex
Apr 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took me quite a while to get into, but ultimately I really enjoyed this fictional account of Melville's life.

The narrative shifts between 3rd-person limited (Melville) to 1st-person (his wife, Lizzie). I didn't feel like I got much insight from the completely fictional perspective of Lizzie. Parini imagines her as generally frustrated with her husband, but I don't know that the 1st person voice was necessary. Parini 3rd person narrator offers plenty of measured insights about Melville
Nov 04, 2010 rated it liked it
Parts of this fictional biography of Melville are excellent. I especially enjoyed his time with the Typees and his relationship with Hawthorne. Melville's character in the book is not a very pleasant one.
He is an absentee father and husband, a loser of grandchildren and he seems adrift in his own life.
Never much of a provider, the book alternates between his story and the story of his long suffering wife, Lizzy. The part that I found the least believable were the chapters that revealed him as b
Feb 12, 2012 rated it liked it
A surprising portrait of Herman Melville's life and the aspects of his character that gave his writing its scope. The book skips between a narration of Herman's activities at sea and his dealings with writing, his friends, etc. and sections described by his wife, Lizzie, who has a much darker view on Herman's vehement passion and isolation. Interesting to see how different the response to his writing was at the same time that Hawthorne, Dickens, and Whitman were all becoming respected literary f ...more
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read about a difficult and most likely closeted gay Herman Melville. Granted, this is a fictionalized portrait of his life, but a nicely written and researched book. I read Moby Dick about 10 years ago and reading The Passages of HM made me want to go back and tackle that dense tome again.
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
This fictional account of the life of Herman Melville shifts between a straightforward chronology and the views of his wife Lizzie after twenty years of marriage. Lizzie is being slowly driven crazy and it is no wonder, since Melville seems to be such a miserable human. The wonder is why the author wanted to write about such an off-putting character.
Jan 26, 2015 rated it liked it
After reading this book I certainly feel like I have a much better sense of Melville. However, the story sort of plodded along, and it made me think of how it must be to read Moby-Dick (which I have not done in over 30 years). I am actually considering rereading the latter, so perhaps that could be considered a partial positive recommendation.
Mar 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Unfair to rate perhaps because I did not finish but I disliked this book a lot. Granted there is not much in the historical record to go on but I do not believe in Parini's characterization of Melville. I would recommend Delbanco's biography and The Night Inspector by Frederick Bush.
Aug 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
enjoyed this. had the feel of a memoir, but with extra depth, thanks to sections written in the voice of Melville's wife. feel a bit sad for him. i remember reading "Billy Bud" in highschool-vaguely, had no idea what was about-now, having spent some time immersed in Melville's mind, i get it.
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
There are so many biographies of Herman Melville out, you might ask why we need a fictional one. I was asking that question as I once again read through the events that inspired "Typee." This book is worth it though for the less well known second half of Melville's life and is well written.
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Excellent novel about the life of Herman Melville. Maybe now I will be inspired to read "Moby Dick."
Book Line and Stinker
Chosen by Mike - Average Score - 55 out of 100
Single word description - Frustrating, Unsatisfactory, Dull, Austere, Obsessive, Contradictory, Tedious, Ambiguous
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I learned a lot about Melville. I enjoyed the read. But there was a cerebralness to it all that left me a little cold.
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Jay Parini (born 1948) is an American writer and academic. He is known for novels and poetry, biography and criticism.
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“...and he realized that he missed the old days of sailing, the ship almost willowy and hesitant, responsive to winds and weathers - not this hard, unthinking, mechanical drive toward a goal or destinations, so typical of the age itself.” 2 likes
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