The Rathbones by Janice Clark
(Doubleday, 2013, 370 pages)
Set in the 19th century this novel looks at the Rathbones, a whaling family on the verge of dying out. Told from the point of view of Mercy Rathbone, who at 15 is one of the few surviving members of the family, we learn her family tree as she explores it for herself.
How did this family which was once so revered and at the top of the whaling game wind up being brought down so significantly? Whereas the Atlantic by the northeastern United States used to be teeming with sperm whales, they seem to have vanished. The Rathbone home which used to be filled with life has grown downtrodden and lies mostly empty. Moses, the original Rathbone patriarch, had strong ties to the ocean and the whales in it but somehow the family’s birthright was lost to them…
After an intruder breaks in to the house Mercy sets off with her uncle Mordecai (who had been locked away in the attic), leaving her mother to wait for her husband to return home. As the two sail around the Atlantic we learn a little more about the Rathbones and how they managed to fall so far from where they started. The book is inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey and there are numerous references to ancient Greek places and figures. I used my phone’s dictionary app on almost every page of this book. I either wanted to make sure I was catching the Greek reference correctly or I was looking up one of many sailing and/or whaling terms. Even with that added “hindrance” (though I really didn’t mind it) this book was wonderful to read. It was well-written and captivating.