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Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices

Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices

3.4 142
by Jodi Picoult

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Sometimes finding your own voice
is a matter of listening to the heart....

Jodi Picoult's powerful novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment....For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on


Sometimes finding your own voice
is a matter of listening to the heart....

Jodi Picoult's powerful novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment....For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility. In anger and fear, Jane leaves with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey charted by letters from her brother Joley, guiding them to his Massachusetts apple farm, where surprising self-discoveries await. Now Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent -- and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As Picoult uses five voices to tell a complex tale of love, friendship and a Faulknerian family history, her mastery of language strongly individuates her characters. The primary voice in this accomplished first novel belongs to Jane Jones, a speech pathologist living in San Diego, Calif. Other narrators are her daughter Rebecca; her husband, Oliver, a marine biologist renowned for his research on the songs of humpback whales; her brother Joley; and her lover, Sam. When an argument between Jane and Oliver culminates in her striking him, Jane is shattered. A childhood victim of physical and sexual abuse, Jane has tried to submerge her memories, but this outbreak of violence causes her to reexamine her life. On a cross-country automobile trip, Jane and Rebecca travel to Stow, Mass., where Joley is living and where each woman meets the man she believes is her destiny. Jane relates the events that occur from San Diego to Stow, while Rebecca tells the story in reverse, flashing back from the climax. Their stories intersect in an Iowa cornfield that still bears the wreckage of the airliner on which then-three-year-old Rebecca was being sent back to her father during her parents' earlier separation; she was one of five survivors. This powerful and affecting novel demonstrates that there are as many truths to a story as there are people to tell it. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This uniquely constructed first novel, the literary equivalent of counterpoint in music, is told in five voices whose polyphonic development delineates a multifaceted love story on different levels for different individuals. These voices belong to five characters--Jane, who has sacrificed her life to her oceanographer husband's career; her daughter, Rebecca, whom Jane seeks to protect; and three very different men in their lives. As Jane heads east from San Diego with her daughter, having abandoned her husband to his whale tapes, the characters' contrapuntal recollections offer psychological insights into their lives. These insights lead to growth, second chances, and love. Charming and poignant, Picoult's novel is even better after a second reading. For public libraries.-- Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Md.
From the Publisher
Ann Hood Author of Do Not Go Gentle Rich and charming....Jodi Picoult casts a spell with her beautiful imagery and language. Reading this book is a delight.

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Washington Square Press
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Chapter One: Jane

The night before I got married I woke up, screaming, from my sleep. My parents came into the room and put their arms around me; they patted my head and smoothed my hair, fine, and I still couldn't stop screaming. Even with my mouth closed, I continued -- the high, shrill note of a nocturnal animal.

My parents were beside themselves. We lived in a button-down suburb of Boston, and we were waking up the neighbors one by one. I watched the lights come on in different houses -- blue and yellow, blinking like Christmas -- and wondered what was happening to me.

This wasn't a common occurrence. I was barely nineteen, a straight-A student fresh out of Wellesley College and in 1976 that was still an accomplishment. I was marrying the man of my dreams in a prototypical white clapboard New England church, and the reception -- a lavish one with white-gloved waiters and Beluga caviar -- was going to be held in my parents' backyard. I had a job waiting for me when I returned from my honeymoon. There was no foreseeable problem that I could articulate.

To this day, I don't know why that happened to me. As mysteriously as it all started, the screaming went away and the next morning I married Oliver Jones -- the Oliver Jones -- and we just about lived happily ever after.

I am the only speech pathologist in this town, which means I get shuttled back and forth to different elementary schools in the San Diego suburbs. It's not such a big deal now that Rebecca is old enough to take care of herself, and since Oliver is away so much of the time, I have less to do at home. I enjoy my work but certainly not the way Oliver enjoys his work. Oliver would be content to live in a sailcloth tent on the coast of Argentina, watching his whales sound in warm water.

My job is to help children find their voices -- kinds that come to school mute, or with lisps or cleft palates. At first, they come into my little makeshift classroom one at a time and they shuffle their Keds on the floor and shyly glance at the formidable recording equipment and they are absolutely silent. Sometimes I stay silent too, until the student breaks the ice and asks what he or she is supposed to do. Some students cover their mouths with their hands at this point; I have even seen one little girl cry: they cannot stand to hear their own voices, pieces of themselves that they have been told are ugly. My role is to show them there's someone who is ready to listen to what they have to say and the way they have to say it.

When I was seven, I tell these kids, I used to whistle every time I said the letter S. In school I got teased and because of this I did not have many friends and I did not talk very much. One day my teacher told the class we'd be putting on a play and that everyone had to participate. I was so nervous about reading aloud in front of everyone else that I pretended I was sick. I faked a fever by holding the thermometer up to a light bulb when my mother left the room. I was allowed to stay home for three days, until my teacher called, and my mother figured out what I was doing. When I went back to school, my teacher called me aside. All of the parts had been taken in the play, she said, but she had saved a special role for me, offstage. I was going to be the Manager of Sound Effects, just like in the movies. I practiced with my teacher every day after school for three weeks. In time I discovered I could become a fire engine, a bird, a mouse, a bee, and many other things because of my lisp. When the night of the play came, I was given a black robe and a microphone. The other students got to be just one part, but I became the voice of several animals and machines. And my father was so proud of me; it was the only time I remember him telling me so.

That's the story I give at those Coastal Studies cocktail parties Oliver and I go to. We rub shoulders with people who'll give grant money. We introduce ourselves as Dr. and Dr. Jones, although I'm still ABD. We sneak out when everyone is going to sit down to the main course, and we run to the car and make fun of people's sequined dresses and dinner jackets. Inside, I curl up against Oliver as he drives, and I listen to him tell me stories I have heard a million times before -- about an era when you could spot whales in every ocean.

In spite of it all, there's just something about Oliver. You know what I'm talking about -- he was the first man who truly took my breath away, and sometimes he still can. He's the one person I feel comfortable enough with to share a home, a life, a child. He can take me back fifteen years with a smile. In spite of differences, Oliver and I have Oliver and I.

In this one school where I spend Tuesdays, my office is a janitorial closet. Sometime after noon the secretary of the school knocks on the door and tells me Dr. Jones is on the phone. Now this is truly a surprise. Oliver is at home this week, putting together some research, but he usually has neither the time nor the inclination to call me. He never asks what school I head to on a given day. "Tell him I'm with a student," I say, and I push the play button on my tape recorder. Vowel sounds fill the room: AAAAA EEEEEIIIII. I know Oliver too well to play his games. OOOOO UUUUU. Oh, you. Oh, you.

Oliver is Very Famous. He wasn't when we met, but today he is one of the leading researchers of whales and whale behavior. He has made discoveries that have rocked the scientific world. He is so well known that people take pictures of our mailbox, as if to say, "I've been to the place where Dr. Jones lives." Oliver's most important research has been on whale songs. It appears that whole groupings of whales sing the same ones -- Oliver has recorded this -- and pass the songs down over generations. I don't understand much about his work, but that is just as much my fault as Oliver's. He never tells me about the ideas burning in his mind anymore, and I sometimes forget to ask.

Naturally Oliver's career has come first. He moved us to California to take a job with the San Diego Center for Coastal Studies, only to find out East Coast humpbacks were his true passion. The minute I got to San Diego I wanted to leave, but I didn't tell Oliver that. For better or for worse, I had said. Oliver got to fly back to Boston and I stayed here with an infant, in a climate that is always summer, that never smells like snow.

I'm not taking his phone call.

I'm not taking this again, period.

It is one thing for me to play second fiddle; it is another thing to see it happen to Rebecca. At fourteen she has the ability to take a survey of her life from a higher vantage point -- an ability I haven't mastered at thirty-five -- and I do not believe she likes what she is seeing. When Oliver is home, which is rare, he spends more time in his study than with us. He doesn't take an interest in anything that isn't tied to the seas. The way he treats me is one matter: we have a history; I hold myself accountable for falling in love in the first place. But Rebecca will not take him on faith, just because he is her father. Rebecca expects.

I've heard about teenagers who run away, or get pregnant or drop out of school, and I have heard these things linked to problems at home. So I offered Oliver an ultimatum. Rebecca's fifteenth birthday next week coincides with Oliver's planned visit to a humpback breeding ground off the coast of South America. Oliver intends to go. I told him to be here.

What I wanted to say is: This is your daughter. Even if we have grown so far apart that we don't recognize each other when we pass, we have this life, this block of time, and what do you think about that?

One reason I keep my mouth shut is Rebecca's accident. It was the result of a fight with Oliver, and I've been doing my best to keep something like that from happening again. I don't remember what that argument was about, but I gave him a piece of my mind and he hit me. I picked up my baby (Rebecca was three and a half at the time) and flew to my parents. I told my mother I was going to divorce Oliver; he was a lunatic and on top of this he'd hit me. Oliver called and said he didn't care what I did but I had no right to keep his daughter. He threatened legal action. So I took Rebecca to the airport and told her, "I'm sorry, honey, but I can't stand that man." I bribed a stewardess with a hundred dollars to take her on the plane, and it crashed in Des Moines. The next thing I knew I was standing in a farmer's cornfield, watching the wreckage smoke. It still seemed to be moving. The wind sang through the plane's limbs, voices I couldn't place. And behind me was Rebecca, singed but intact, one of five survivors, curled in her father's arms. She has Oliver's yellow hair and freckles. Like him, she's beautiful. Oliver and I looked at each other and I knew right then why fate had made me fall in love with a man like Oliver Jones: some combination of him and of me had created a child who could charm even unyielding earth.

Copyright © 1992 by Jodi Picoult

What People are Saying About This

Ann Hood
"I picked up Songs of the Humpback Whale and was hooked from page one. It is both rich and charming. Jodi Picoult cast a spell over the reader with her beautiful imagery and language. Reading this book is a delight."
Mary Morris
"In her remarkable and vibrant first novel, Jodi Picoult displays near perfect pitch. Songs of the Humpback Whale is ingeniously structured and reminiscent of early Anne Tyler. Picoult has written a compelling story of family, of loss and misunderstanding, and reconciliation. Her characters are made real through their brilliant voices. Indeed, this novel sings."
Michael Martone
"Jodi Picoult is a diva of voices. Songs of the Humpback Whale resonates and connect."

Meet the Author

Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-one novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.

Brief Biography

Hanover, New Hampshire
Date of Birth:
May 19, 1966
Place of Birth:
Nesconset, Long Island, NY
A.B. in Creative Writing, Princeton University; M.A. in Education, Harvard University

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Songs of the Humpback Whale: A Novel in Five Voices 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 142 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love some of Picoult's other works, so I tried this one. Maybe it's just me, but reading the same story 5 times - even from 5 different perspectives - was boring. I found myself thinking SO many times - but I know this already ... get on with the story. The last half of the book I just skimmed through to see if there was anything relevant to the plot. I won't give up on Picoult though. I plan to read all of her works because I loved the first three I read: My Sister's Keeper (I read this before I even knew a movie was coming out.), Change of Heart (really LOVED this one), and Plain Truth.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I like Jodi Picoult novels--for the most part--but this one was lacking. Jane, married at a young age to Oliver, a marine biologist, is stifled by his years of apathy toward his marriage and child. Things come to a head shortly before their daughter, Rebecca's 15th birthday, when Jane, upon learning her husband once again plans to be away working on that day, snaps and slaps her husband (bringing to her consciousness her history of seeing her own father abuse his wife and family) and she takes off with her daughter across the country from San Diego to see her brother who works on an apple farm in Massachusetts. A whiz at tracking the migration of humpback whales, Oliver follows a scientifically calculated pursuit of his family as Jane and Rebecca follow a far more meandering route (directed by letters from Jane's brother Joley)to their final destination. Along the way, each of the characters share their experiences about their trip east, (Rebecca's experience told in an annoying and at times confusing backward tale) how they grow and change, and about the ultimately devastating events that happen after they reach the farm. As is too often the case with Picoult novels, she writes a truly interesting story but with an ethereal quality about relationships that is over-the-top unbelievable. Her descriptions of a very close emotional bond between Jane and her brother Joley, reads as borderline incestuous. Jane's relationship with her daughter reads at times the same way--too close for comfort. (Why, for example, does Jane feel a need twice in this novel to put her hands on her daughter's breasts? If it were a father doing this, it would be child molestation!) Over the course of five days, we are led to believe that an at first prickly relationship between Jane and the orchard owner, Sam, suddenly becomes a sexual relationship between soul mates. I've got news for both of them--he's a diversion. And a improper sexual relationship between fifteen year old Rebecca and 25-year old Hadley is really okay, because the girl is mature beyond her years. Of course, she isn't--as is made quite clear when she willingly climbs into a truck to hitchhike with two men who have all but said straight out they plan to take advantage of her sexually (if only all would-be rapists would reveal their hand so quickly!). The problem is that it is difficult to like any of the characters--perhaps with the exception of Rebecca, who is just plain naive--to enough extent to route for anyone. Neither Jane nor her daughter seem to have the maturity to think about their actions beyond the here and now. The same seems to go for Oliver, until he experiences some sort of a mid-trip 'awakening' and realizes he really does love his wife after all but hasn't always shown it--duh! Jane is just plain selfish and inconsiderate. She uses her newly attained status as Sam's girlfriend to demand he let a long-time trusted employee go. Need anyone remind her who was the uninvited guest at this orchard? Again, this is a good story, and if you are a romantic at heart who wants to read something meatier than romance novels, then this is a good book for you. So long as you don't get caught up in the believability of the characters, you'll enjoy this read.
grandma200414 More than 1 year ago
That was a hard book for me to get into. I found getting very interested in sisters keeper and I couldn't put it down and the suicide pact that was another I had a hard time putting down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually don't write reviews but after reading all of the negative reviews and then reading this book myself, I feel compelled to write one. In my opinion, this was a very touching novel that really hit home for me. Although I didn't personally deal with abuse growing up, I am married with 2 children and have gone through losing myself and leaving my home with my children to rediscover myself. This book hit really close to home for me. I love how it gave everyone's perspective! It was a little slow in parts but I found myself crying like a baby at the end, as I have done in all of her books that I have read. Definatly another excellent read by a brilliant author!
buddyroo66 More than 1 year ago
Complete disappointment :(
pwee More than 1 year ago
this novel follows a broken family in desperate need of repair, placing the views of each person (the mother, father, and the daughtor) into their own unique passages. Jane, the mother, after having hit her husband Oliver, flees across America with her daughtor, Rebecca, in the direction of her closely knit brother, Joley, at the apple orchard where he works. Along the way, mother and daughtor are forced to relive active memories that they have so long attempted to forget. Meanwhile,the father, Oliver, is attempting to find his family with his grand tracking skills, gained from experience in tracking humpback whales, at frist being rather smug that finding them would be a simple and easy task. As the novel continues, bonds are created and broken, as each person finds who he/she really is and the new person that they have become. A really good, thought provoking novel, as is Jodi Picoult's trademark, and completely engrossing once you find out that Rebecca is backtracking through time. If you "stick with it", you will most definitely find that it was worth it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wait
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...But this one is my least favorite so far. The story telling jumps from character to character and from past to future events. I felt like the novel itself was a plot spoiler and that lessened my enjoyment of Picoult's beautiful writing considerably. Every chapter was anticlimatic; it was like reading the last page of a book first. Also I found the characters to be less than relatable and the information on whale songs was tremendously boring and textbook-like. My favorite Picoult novels include animals and learning about their behavoirs; Lone Wolf and Leaving Time were so masterful at this, that I assumed this book would follow suit. It did not. I still have to give three and a half stars because she simply is a wonderful writer whose work I never can seem to put down. I am measuring Jodi on her homerun masterpiece novels, so this doesn't quite cut muster. Still worth reading at the library. Don't spend the money on it, though. Twelve bucks for a Nook book is highway robbery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He walks in without a shirt on showing his golden tan. "Need help?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im writing fast)) hestartes to suck at her n<_>ipples th vibrater now wet an hiss hand pkaying with her p<_>ussy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Groans ( you didint spell stuff right )
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Timepool at 'old mortality'. I'm done with her rper.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A dark gray tom with blue eyes and skyclan heritage Pads in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the best was dissapointed at the end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lg22 More than 1 year ago
Had a hard time finishing this one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jodi Picoult's, "Songs of the Humpback Whale" is not what I first expected in what the title expressed.Instead it tis the story of a mother who takes her child across country to escape the abuse of her husband. She is led across our fantastic country by the letters of her younger brother and the memories that her brings back to life for her, to help heal her, and also because she has never driven outside the confines of the western coast. the book is about theamazing journey of the mother and daughter experiencing life together and when they arrive in Massachussetts, the mother meets an amazing man who teaches her what Love is really all about. The father finnaly cathes up to them and a horrific accident brings them all to their senses. The mother and child return with the father to the west coast with a renewed sense of who they are and whee they shooud head in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great story by Jodi Picoult. Such a beautiful story of love and loss. The complexity if the characters leaves you with a set of new friends and yearning to learn more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago