Day 616: The Rathbones

Cover for The RathbonesBest Book of the Week!
The Rathbones is a strange and wonderful novel, part gothic mystery, part magical realism, about a whaling family in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mercy Rathbone is a girl, the last of a mysterious family. She lives in a massive house only partially built that used to house dozens of people. Now only her aloof mother lives there with her and her cousin Mordecai—who stays in the attic and acts as her tutor—and a few servants.

Mercy has vague memories of a brother that her mother and cousin tell her never existed. She has not seen her father for more than ten years, although packages from him occasionally arrive. She is curious about the family portraits in a gallery, all with the names removed. She knows the names of her mother and father but has no idea who her grandparents were, or how they related to Moses, the patriarch of the family.

One night Mercy is attracted by the sound of a boy singing and ventures into a part of the house where she is not allowed, the widow’s walk where  her mother goes every night. There she witnesses her mother being embraced by a strange man, and that man chases her through the house. She finds refuge with Mordecai, and the two decide to go to sea to find her father. They flee in a little dory, pursued by the strange man.

So begins a wonderous adventure, where they encounter an island occupied only by old ladies; an island of rich, eccentric cousins with a massive collection of furniture and art; an island of birds occupied by a woman who only speaks bird language. At each stop Mercy learns more about the odd and sometimes grotesque history of her family, many of whom have a magical affinity for the sea.

I do not usually enjoy magical realism, but with this novel I loved never knowing where the story would go. It is an odd one, certainly, and probably not for everyone, but it is imaginative and unusual.

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2 thoughts on “Day 616: The Rathbones

  1. Naomi November 20, 2014 / 1:29 pm

    I don’t usually like magical realism either, but sometimes, if it is well done, it is just the thing to make a story unique. This one sounds good, especially since I am a fan of sea voyages.

    • whatmeread November 20, 2014 / 1:36 pm

      It was very unusual, and as I read more books, that begins to be something I value. But I don’t want to be like professional reviewers, who, I sometimes think, start to like things just because they’re different. I feel that movie reviewers especially have sometimes mislead me just because they’re so jaded about less unusual movies. I used to call it “The French have tricked me again,” because it always seemed like I was going to movies I hated that had won the Palme d’Or!

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