Patrick Ness’s “And The Ocean Was Our Sky”

For there are devils in the deep, 

but worse are the ones

we make. 

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s latest novel is a retelling of Moby Dick and it is called And The Ocean Was Our Sky. It is a tale about Bathsheba, an apprentice whale, who lives in her all-female pod, led by the wise and much experienced Captain Alexandra. It begins with the opening line “Call Me Bathsheba” echoing the legendary opening of Moby Dick “Call me Ishmael”. It is a slim novella acconpanied by Australian illustrator Rovina Cai’s stunning illustrations.

Bathsheba and her pod are out on a hunt with a specific mission. They are in search of Toby Wick, a human being, a whale hunter and their arch enemy. Bathsheba is particularly keen to find him as he is responsible for embedding the harpoon in her when she was still an apprentice. Along the way they find an abandoned ship in which they discover a man, tied to a pole, and he is still alive. Apparently kept alive so that he could pass on a message to Captain Alexandra and her pod.

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a coming-of-age story about Bathsheba who has to learn to be a killer in order to survive in the open sea. She has to learn to obey, follow instructions and not offer an opinion, as she is constantly being reminded by Captain Alexandra. She learns very soon what it means to grieve when she watches her mother hunted but also realises that along with her grandmother, Captain Alexandra, she has to persevere and remain focused on their mission.

Whether you are familiar with Moby Dick or not is immaterial to reading And The Ocean Was Our Sky. It is a powerful story that leaves you feeling caught in a swirl — it is not just with the constant swimming of the whales and sharks feeding upon the dead sailors or carcasses of whales thrown back in to the water after being stripped of their blubber but it is also the fluidity with which the story is narrated that can leave the reader feeling rather giddy. It is a curious heady feeling that develops from reading the very horrific descriptions of violence, the pure rage and thirst for revenge coupled with the magnificently hypnotic double-page spread illustrations of Rovina Cai. It is an experience reading like no other. It is a retelling combined with very real twenty-first century environmental concerns such as modern day whale hunts and the so much unnecessary terror that man unleashes upon wild life.  Mahvesh Murad in her review calls it “a book about prejudices that lead to generations of hate and death; about who monsters are, and what makes them so; about loyalty and single minded, determined violent obsessions that can never end well for most, but make a great story for the ones who survive to tell.” But I have to agree with Tony Bradman when he wrote in his review that “This is a book for all ages, although some scenes contain graphic violence, so it might be a little too strong for children under 10.”

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is another lyrcial masterpiece by Patrick Ness even though it is so full of sorrow and heartache.  It will definitely be on a few literary prize shortlists in the coming months.

To buy on Amazon India: 

Hardback 

Paperback 

29 Oct 2018 

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