Welcome to Angie's Beach House Book Club for Good Lookin' Books
-- BOOK REVIEW --
Full Disclosure! I was entirely 'reeled in' by the cover of this book (apologies for the nautical pun!). The book seemed fairly innocent and fun from the cover! Curiously I read the synopsis by the Publisher on the inside of the dust-jacket:
'A robust, powerful novel- the story of Jabez Folger, a savage, romantic man of the sea, with a sinister secret in his past, and a passion for his ships figurehead no living, breathing woman could satisfy'.
Cheeky and Quaint, was what I was expecting for a book written by a woman in 1945, and set in the 1830s. Buoy oh Buoy was I wrong! The Manatee was supposed to legitimise my belief that it is entirely appropriate to judge a book by its cover! If I was looking for a book to prove this conviction, then this was a book that was only going to prove the reverse! The tone that lured me by the cover offered a false promise and only ensured I miscalculated the levity of this book.
There is not a lot of literature available on The Manatee, but what is available is fascinating. It is regarded as the first Harlequin book ever published in the 'romance genre', (it certainly ain't no modern day Mills and Boon!) and according to a Time Magazine article written in 1945, sold 52,000 copies just one week after publication.
By the end of Chapter 1, I pondered if I had chosen a 1940's equivalent to a '50 Shades of Grey'! I questioned if this book was appropriate to include in my Beach house Bookclub, or even capable of making it to my display shelf at home? By the end of Chapter 2, I was in shock, and unsure if I wanted to read on. I could just select a different book, I thought! (At this point, I note other reviewers have inserted trigger warnings. This book does contain confronting themes, including racism and sexual violence and some pretty strong language). However, I decided I wanted to persist reading to find out why this book had been so popular and re-printed so many times, and also to re-assess my own views of what I assumed would have been 'acceptable' back in the day, especially something written by a woman. I had never read a book that had been so fast moving and so shocking, in just the first two chapters. It certainly had my attention.
Without spoiling the plot line for those of you who may wish to read it, I would say that the serious themes that underscore this book, would put it in a genre similar to 1954 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding. In fact, I was slightly irritated in retrospect that Golding received such credit, when Nancy Bruff explored many of these confronting topics almost a decade earlier.
There are only a couple of reviews online and they are overwhelmingly negative. But I think they oversimplify this great book. I loved it and hated it in equal measure, which is surely what the author intended. The deep introspection into the dark side of human nature will surely always be unpleasant and confronting to read, but important to explore, and as such, this is a book you won't soon forget. Life, death, faith and different philosophies of life between the cultures, are topics that are put closely under the microscope. And there are a few lovely pearls of wisdom to be found along the way. If you have a strong stomach, and want to have your expectations challenged then The Manatee is worth a read. It transports you right into the heart of the Nantucket whaling days, and is a fast paced and confident story told by an unapologetic woman and a clever writer.
Does it make my display shelf? After much consideration...Yes
4 Sea Stars