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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Ahab (Sequels)

Pierre Senges

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To purchase Ahab (Sequels)

Title: Ahab (Sequels)
Author: Pierre Senges
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 550 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Ahab (Sequels) - US
Ahab (Sequels) - UK
Ahab (Sequels) - Canada
Achab (séquelles) - Canada
Achab (séquelles) - France
  • French title: Achab (séquelles)
  • Translated by Jacob Siefring and Tegan Raleigh

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Our Assessment:

B+ : baggy, but good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Devoir . 14/11/2015 Guylaine Massoutre
Le Monde . 28/10/2015 Bertrand Leclair
The Nation . 29/6/2022 Ryan Ruby

  From the Reviews:
  • "Achab (séquelles) refait pour nous le monde biblique, le conte mégalomaniaque de Gilgamesh, le feuilleton de Shéhérazade embobinant un sultan assassin. Il offre au lecteur d’escalader la montagne magique, avec Jules Verne au carré. (...) Inénarrable, drôle à mourir, grabuge, parodie des plus paranoïaques définitions d’un chef-d’oeuvre, Achab (séquelles) se donne comme le bilan de tout ce qu’une panse littéraire pourrait ruminer. Conditionnel, potentiel, baudruche pleine à craquer de parenthèses, verbe sur tous les modes décliné." - Guylaine Massoutre, Le Devoir

  • "Senges makes no attempt to reconcile the two incompatible origin stories he gives for Ahab; the point, rather, is to satirically undercut the originality of Melville's masterpiece by attributing it to someone else. (...) Senges's persistent use of anachronism (...) suggests that the Great White Way and Golden Age Hollywood are in fact merely stand-ins for a satirical target that is nearer to hand: the totally marketized culture of the 21st century. Especially its literary culture. (...) At the level of form, the book explodes its potential as a commodity and, collaterally, the customer service logic of justifying aesthetic choices exclusively with reference to a reader's pleasure. In doing so, Senges does not merely seek to place Ahab (Sequels) in the vestigial tradition of avant-garde writing; he also seeks to recapture something of its lost social function." - Ryan Ruby, The Nation

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ahab (Sequels) is, as the plural suggests, multifarious and manifold. It features the character well-known from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, the obsessed captain of the Pequod, and early on offers a different, not-quite-so-final turn of events in which Ahab survives his great confrontation with the long-chased white whale:

In truth, Ahab let go of his prey almost immediately and rose right back to the surface: the witnesses should have been able to see him appear, joyful champagne cork, victorious, cackling with the cackle of miniseries villains when they triumph in extremis, immorally.
       But Senges is not offering a simple sequel to Moby-Dick, continuing the action with a revived Ahab where Melville left off. No, Ahab (Sequels) is more a novel of variations, Senges' Ahab very much Melville's, right down to the peg-leg, but his life taking different course(s); his Melvillean personal history (in)forms him, yet his life path(s) are entirely different -- also in place and time (as, for example, the climactic struggle, an episode hardly differing from the: "commonly accepted & also older one" here takes place in 1910). Senges moves Ahab from (just) the whaling-story -- and his single-minded pursuit -- and (re)places him elsewhere -- not least, in the film-world of Hollywood -- even as Ahab remains, in his essence, constant.
       The great whale is not entirely cast away: it lurks in the story, too, rising occasionally back to the fore along the way; amusingly, in Ahab (Sequels), it is Moby Dick -- "no longer a white whale, but a whale with a grievance" -- that travels endlessly in pursuit of that one that got away. With Ahab forsaking the sea -- "From now on, Ahab is resolved to stay on dry land" --, the whale does not have an easy time of it -- but, like, Ahab himself (at least previously), it never relents. And, yes, inevitably, their fates are destined to bring them together again .....
       Ahab can also not escape the story of Moby-Dick, even as he tries to shake it off -- coming up with other explanations for how he lost his leg, for example. Much of the novel is also set set in the dream-factory of Hollywood, where Ahab winds up, trying his hand at screenwriting, and Senges presents a series of well-known directors considering tackling the Melville-book -- and a variety of actors who might play the role of Ahab: yet more sequels and variations of the Ahab-story and -character. (Amusingly, too, in the attempts to bring Moby-Dick to the screen: "Many scriptwriters have wanted to get rid of this wooden leg: unless the director is a skillful one (what others would call a show-off), it's a cumbersome accessory".)
       Senges' Ahab -- who is both many and one -- follows different paths. He tries to re-invent himself in New York, for example, taking on all sorts of jobs -- not least, that of elevator operator, commanding a very different kind of vessel. In moving from sea to land, he tries to change his identity completely:
When anyone asks his name, he says his own adieux to the very difficult name of Ahab, and offers instead Sam, or John, or Brad, or Paul, or Artie, or sometimes Joe, just Joe, like the easiest coin to grab hold of at the bottom of one's pocket
       Senges even also reïmagines a different life-path from before -- from a section titled: Ahab, prequels to imagining a not yet fully formed Ahab turning on his creator in London in 1849, when: "Moby Dick was still in the drafting stage, Ahab was still an incomplete character for Melville". (Senges eventually goes even further back in suggesting the origins of the character, imagining Mozart-librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, in his old age, meeting a young Melville in New York, with one of the chapters then describing: Da Ponte palms off Ahab to the young Herman Melville.)
       The life of a 'Young Ahab' -- born, as it were, in 1851, the year of Moby-Dick's publication -- is chronicled in making Senges' Ahab(s). This Ahab traveled to London as a young man, and tried to make it as an actor -- ambitiously hoping: "to conquer all of Shakespeare". He gets his chance on the boards, eventually -- role-playing, in yet another variation, inhabiting all the great Shakespearean roles (including Ophelia) -- though not before spending: "two or three years as a prompter" (who isn't often called on).
       Ahab sees Shakespeare as a:
man without a biography, without a face, masked by his various roles, & disguised as a universal genius whose final trace was the last will and testament of an embittered man of the upper middle class
       Senges' Ahab embraces this role, too, taking: "his turn at being William Shakespeare, incognito far and wide" -- the ideal cover and vessel: "To be Shakespeare because he knew how to be nobody and everybody". While Ahab remains fundamentally himself, Senges moves him about in a world in other guises, on other paths -- even if, ultimately, he can not escape his fate. Indeed, Ahab (Sequels) is a story of constant attempts at reïnvention -- of both Ahab (by Senges, and by himself) and of the Moby-Dick-saga itself -- but part of the point is just how unchanging the underlying foundations are: Ahab is always Ahab, the whale always the whale.
       More than anything, Ahab (Sequels) shows how, for narrative purposes -- whatever those purposes be, whether entertaining an audience, or convincing a ship-crew to continue to hunt a white whale --, there must be constant reïnvention. The many different movie-versions that are presented here -- most as potential, rather than realized -- are one variation on the theme; another is, as one chapter-heading has it: Ahab on the ship endlessly reinvents the whale, as:
     For most sailors, even a white one, was quickly exhausted: it had to be renewed every morning
       Ahab (Sequels) is presented in fairly short chapters, the story proceeding in roughly chronological sequences (the year of the action usefully given in a marginal note where appropriate) but jumping about as well, in time, place, and focus. Interspersed throughout are also glimpses of the whale, as well the odd tangential chapter -- say, a: Catalog of shipwrecks (excerpt). A thirty-seven page (!) table of contents at the beginning of the book provides the chapter headings and brief chapter-summaries, succinct summings-up that often usefully complement the text.
       The novel ranges far and wide -- notably also to Hollywood, where Senges introduces many famous directors, actors, and screenwriters, with Ahab there as an aspiring scriptwriter. The cast of characters who take their turns in Senges' limelight range from Cary Grant to Josef "von" Sternberg and Billy Wilder, Orson Welles to F.Scott Fitzgerald. Even as he brings in so many real-life characters, Senges' approach remains more descriptive than dynamic: there is relatively little action and interaction, and essentially no dialogue; the chapters, even as they relate episodes and events, are more analytic and essayistic than straightforward narrative. The sheer variety and the many threads Senges pulls through them, as well as the constants shifts, make for a novel that, though baggy, does offer constant delights: Senges' play of ideas and events, and expression -- in sentences and sequences that wend over wide terrain -- consistently entertains.
       Ahab (Sequels) is a character-study -- and a fictional-character study. No matter what Senges does to and with Ahab -- and the whale --, they remain the characters as conceived by Melville. With its Ahab-variations, Senges' novel is a sort of 'exercise in style' (pace Queneau). Arguably, Senges is more successful in sticking to the (more) fictional world, as in his frequent bringing up of Don Quixote and Baron Münchausen, but the Hollywood or Da Ponte pieces also fit in (and are often very entertaining). It is a big heap he offers here -- a lot of variation, all piled up -- but it almost feels like it has to be, much as the original Ahab's quest also stretched out for so long. (So, too, Ahab (Sequels) mirrors Melville's novel in its willingness to digress, albeit also in very different forms.)
       Ahab (Sequels) is a neat literary game, well executed and presented, in small, enjoyable pieces that also fit together in this very large (and slightly unwieldy) whole. It's a grand sort of novel, playing well across its wide range. It's no Moby-Dick, but it is an inspired variation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 October 2021

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Ahab (Sequels): Reviews: Other books by Pierre Senges under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Senges was born in 1968.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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