Update: The recent Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have prompted increased learning and listening for people around the globe, myself included. I cannot over-emphasise the power of literature to educate yourself on racism and white privilege, so here’s a really good list of books: https://bookshop.org/lists/antiracist-reading-recs . I’ve got a long list of books that I’d like to read, and I’m looking forward to sharing them on the blog soon in a dedicated post.
And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (The Whale), but with a flipped perspective: this time it’s from the point of view of a whale, Bathsheba. Her hunting pod of whales, led by the inimitable Captain Alexandra, is obsessed with getting revenge on the human hunting vessels that sail above them; the relentless war is between two species constantly seeking vengeance for the crimes committed against one another. The man the whales seek the most is Toby Wick, and they’ll go to great lengths to find him. As the hunt progresses, Bathsheba begins to question whether its worth sacrificing everything for this conflict.
It goes without saying that I am a huge fan of Patrick Ness’s novels – from the philosophical undertones of More Than This to the dystopian world of The Chaos Walking Trilogy (see the links at the bottom of the page for my reviews), the characters he creates and the themes that he explores are truly unique. He’s undoubtedly one of the most creative YA authors out there. The book that was released before this one, Release, was very different to the book before that, so I expected And the Ocean Was Our Sky to be different once again.
One of the things that makes his books some of my favourites is how they deal with themes related to the human condition and our life experience, so somehow I couldn’t quite get on board with an animal protagonist. I’m a fierce animal lover, without a doubt, but hearing a story from the point of view of a whale felt weird, and lacked the impact of other of narrators. Nevertheless it was a unique choice, and I appreciate it’s creativity.
I listened to the audiobook, so the lyricism and flow of the book’s writing style was particularly apparent. It’s quite different to the style used in his other novels – this book is more formal with fewer colloquialisms (which I assume is a nod to the writing style of Moby Dick). The only downside of listening is that you can’t see the illustrations that are a big part of the novel. A quick search on the internet brings up beautiful images of detailed drawings in black and red. The concept of whales having hunting ships is hard to visualise, so the illustrations play an important role in bringing the story to life. If you have the choice to read the physical book, then I would choose that over the audiobook, however, the audiobook was well-read and did effectively conceptualise the events of the story.
The title of the book is perfect: in so few words, it has described the literal relationship between the whales and humankind, and instantly intrigues the reader with the idea of a flipped perspective.
As I mentioned in my synopsis, this is a retelling of Moby Dick, which I haven’t read. It’s definitely not the first Young Adult novel to be based on a classic, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but I have mixed feelings about them (I think I’m going to write a post on it to explain my position). I don’t know if the book requires you to have read Moby Dick to fully appreciate it, but using the whales vs. humans concept provides a unique vehicle for exploring themes of obsession and revenge.
All in all, And The Ocean Was Our Sky, while not one of my favourites by this author (although the bar has been set high!), explores interesting themes in a thoroughly unusual way. As a newcomer to consuming books in an audio format, I’m yet to fully get used to audiobooks. I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of Ness’s latest book, Burn, and seeing what’s in store for us there!
Chaos Walking Trilogy Reviews: