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whale a love story book coverReviewed by Meredith Kelly

I enjoyed The Whale: A Love Story despite at times having had a hard time reading it. The book was primarily about the meeting and subsequent friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In addition to feeling overly factual for a fictional book, it also needed that “spice.” Unfortunately, it read like a well-prepared dish that lacked salt and pepper.

The two gentlemen met in the summer of 1850 on a picnic which was arranged by David Dudley Field, a lawyer and reformer. The guests on this outing reflected a “who’s who” of famous men of that era and included Oliver Wendell Holmes, in addition to Hawthorne and Melville and a few other less significant men. As the group was climbing Monument Mountain in western Massachusetts, it started to rain causing the group to scatter and resulting in Melville and Hawthorne being together with no one else around. Thus began their historical relationship.

At this time both writers were working on their masterpieces–for Hawthorne it was The House of The Seven Gables and for Melville it was The Whale (the working title of Moby Dick). Melville was having many problems with his book including finding it difficult to create its ending. He was also unhappy about his portrayal of the main characters and spent many sleepless nights trying desperately to figure out how he could improve them.

During this time the friendship between Melville and Hawthorne blossomed. Living in close proximity, they often visited one another and enjoyed wonderful conversation over brandy and long cigars. When Melville finally completed his book, he dedicated it to his good friend writing, “In token of my admiration for his genius this book is dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne”. Hawthorne was much delighted.

Melville was shocked to hear the news of Hawthorne’s death in May of 1864 but did not attend the funeral. Melville had just started the novella Billy Budd in 1888 and was still working on it when he died in 1891.


Meredith has been an avid reader since childhood and loves to talk about books. A bit of a Luddite, she has only recently become acquainted with E-Reading and online book reviews. She finds exposure to such a wide audience of opinion on books fascinating.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Penguin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.