So, having read My Sister’s Keeper, I found it interesting to go back to where it all began – her first book. And it did not disappoint. Songs of a Humpback Whale has all the trademarks of a Picoult – brilliantly written and totally flawed and relatable characters within a complex plot with a strong emotional pull.
The main difference is that this book is much simpler in its drama. There is no massive life or death dilemma. The action, as it were, has already happened. We learn early on that Jane, the main protagonist, was abused as a child by her father and escaped into marriage at a young age. The reader also discovers at the very beginning that their daughter Rebecca survived a plane crash, aged 3. These two massive events are what, directly and indirectly, lead to Jane leaving her husband with her daughter in tow and that is when the book really begins. Her husband is a workaholic (a leader in his field of Whale song - hence the title) and has spent years neglecting his family with his absence. After a fight, Jane has had enough and runs.
Picoult is more subtle in this book, but equally brilliant. She explores in great depth the relationships between family members and the hazards of believing first impressions. She jumps perspectives from character to character and time, leaping between past, present and future events - but the fundamentals are not lost along the way. The characters are so well written that they leaped off the page and became my friends - ultimately I just wanted to know how their lives were going to pan out.
The book is more adult than I was expecting, as both Jane and Rebecca learn about new loves and go on their own paths of self-discovery in a very detailed and often explicit way so perhaps not for much younger readers.
Personally, I think it is a true testament to the readability of a book that even when the end is revealed in the middle, the reader still wants to continue reading simply to discover how it reached that point. And I did. It is that compelling.
A must for any Picoult fan, and for any readers who want to try her it would be a great place to start.
Enjoy! LE xx