Book Review: Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford

I was offered Ahab’s Return: or The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford to read and review by Harper Collins Canada. The book intrigued me as it is written as an offshoot of the well-known classic Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Genre:  Historical Fiction


A bold and intriguing fabulist novel that re-imagines two of the most legendary characters in American literature—Captain Ahab and Ishmael of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. 

At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.

Ahab’s pursuit leads him to The Gorgon’s Mirror, the sensationalist tabloid newspaper that employed Ishmael as a copy editor while he wrote the harrowing story of the ill-fated Pequod. In the penny press’s office, Ahab meets George Harrow, who makes a deal with the captain: the newspaperman will help Ahab navigate the city in exchange for the exclusive story of his salvation from the mouth of the great white whale. But their investigation—like Ahab’s own story—will take unexpected, dangerous, and ultimately tragic turns.

Told with wisdom, suspense, a modicum of dry humor and horror, and a vigorous stretching of the truth, Ahab’s Return charts an inventive and intriguing voyage involving one of the most memorable characters in classic literature, and pays homage to one of the greatest novels ever written.

My thoughts: 

Ahab’s Return has not been written in the vein of the modern novel. Instead it reflects the style and manner of storytelling that was fashionable when Moby Dick was written. The references to a  manticore During the story require the reader to suspend reality and accept that this mythical creature is part of the characters’ experience. As I was reading the story, the exaggerations and exploits of some of the characters in the novel reminded me of the prose I have read in some classical English literature.

Some of the references to a manticore are linked to the creation of a story by an author and the metaphor encouraged me to think of the time when I read the literature at university that explored more than one meaning within a tale. Not only is Ford telling us a story, but he is also subtly offering an opinion on how the story being written inspires the author’s creativity.

Ahab’s Return is a literary novel that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not a novel that can be read in a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Instead, it is a story that would be appreciated by those readers who enjoy the classics and who enjoy stories that have a deeper meaning to them. I enjoyed this novel for that reason. Not all readers would enjoy the tale but, as a person who enjoyed Moby Dick, I found it interesting to follow the suggested story of Ahab and Ishmael.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 84th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

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