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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Language of the Sea

by James MacManus
295 pages

About the Book

Leo Kemp, professor of marine mammal studies, is fascinated by seal communication; it is his life's work.  His dedication to the subject has led to problems in his marriage and even (in a roundabout way) to the death of his 10-year-old son.

A freak wave results in Leo being swept overboard during a research trip and he finds himself in the midst of a seal pod.  Through some strange miracle he is able to swim and survive alongside the seals.  Now he has a choice: will he return to his family on shore or spend the rest of his life in the sea?

Why I Read It

Seals have been my favorite animals since childhood but they don't appear in many stories so I was excited when I received a pitch for this book.  The pitch also mentioned the Celtic legend of selkies (seals who come on land, shed their skins, and become human for a time). That was enough to get me hooked.

My Thoughts

I've got mixed feelings about this book so I'm finding it hard to write a review.  Let me start by telling you what I liked, then I'll share what didn't exactly work for me.

The characters in this book are fantastic.  The main characters (other than Leo) are fleshed out in enough detail to make them interesting and real.  Leo's wife was especially well-written - I feel like I know her.  And Leo's friend Sandy was endearing to me because he is literally addicted to buying second-hand books.  The secondary characters weren't as developed (of course) but they also weren't stereotypical; each was unique and I could picture them as real people.

I loved the idea of this story but the execution fell flat at times.  I was hoping for an explanation of how Leo was able to survive with the seals but it wasn't given.  That really wasn't a big deal though - I think it was meant to be unexplainable, and I'm okay with that.  What WAS a big deal was Leo's reason for wanting to live with the seals in the first place. I felt like I didn't know Leo enough before the boating accident and therefore I had difficulty understanding his actions afterward. For example, he had a dream since childhood of disappearing into the sea but that doesn't come out until much later in the book, and by the time it does come out it seems like an afterthought to explain the way the plot developed.

I really enjoyed the epilogue. The story progressed in a way that made complete sense based on what had come before, and I liked the ending a great deal.

As I said, I'm torn on this book.  I can't recommend it whole-heartedly but I can't say not to read it either.  I'd love to know what other people thought of it, so if you've read this one please do let me know!


mpartyka said...

Thanks for an honest review. It can be a challenge to write about what didn't work, and do it delicately.

Well done!

TheBookGirl said...

Even though the book wasn't a winner for you, your review is really helpful, as it gives a clear idea of what is lacking in the book.

Andi said...

Sounds like an exciting premise, but sorry that the execution fell flat at times. I'd give it a try if I found it at my library. :)

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the author has some promise!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

What an intriguing synopsis. It's certainly different from what I usually read. How fun that seals are your favorite animals! I loved the role the seal played in the movie Nim's Island.

Yvette said...

I am very intrigued. Thanks for such an honest review. Much appreciated. Knowing your hesitation, I'm still going to take a look. As I said: I am intrigued. :)

Serena said...

I would have a hard time with this book given that the dream seems to be an afterthought to the plot development. That would be a tough thing for me to ignore in reading this. Thanks for the honest review.

Anonymous said...

You're right, seals are definitely under-represented in fiction :)

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