Quill & Quire
Beth Powning’s second novel is the affecting and engaging story of a young woman seeking her place in the world – a place away from the loneliness and boredom of a small Canadian village.
Azuba is the young wife of Nathaniel, an older man who captains the Traveller, a commercial ship. The couple originally planned to travel together, but when Azuba becomes pregnant, Nathaniel realizes he cannot jeopardize his wife’s safety or that of his unborn child by taking her aboard his ship.
The primary action begins in 1861, five years into the couple’s marriage. Azuba, pregnant again, suffers a miscarriage while her husband is at sea, and finds comfort and understanding in her friendship with a local minister. Upon Nathaniel’s return, rumours of an affair between Azuba and the minister are swirling, and as a result he feels compelled to take his wife and five-year-old daughter on his next voyage. During that arduous trek around the world, Azuba and her husband begin to rebuild their relationship and in the process explore the dynamics of family and belonging.
Powning’s lyrical prose accentuates the struggles of the characters while smoothly advancing the plot. The descriptive passages paint a clear picture of the historical period while taking care not to wallow in gratuitous details. Unfortunately, the prologue is written in a more formal style than the novel proper, and the epilogue seems like an add-on – both are unnecessary and detract from the narrative’s flow and impact.
Thematically, The Sea Captain’s Wife is about the complexities of relationships – between husband and wife, between extended family members, friends, and society – and about the conflict between work and family. Nathaniel’s decision to have his wife and daughter accompany him allows Powning to effectively explore the consequences of a lack of balance between passion and pragmatism.
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"The Sea Captain's Wife
is a terrific tale, fast-moving and expertly told, one which measures, in the author's phrase, 'the true size of the world.' Like The Hatbox Letters
, Powning's second cleverly crafted novel is not to be missed.
—London Free Press
"Equal parts character study, travelogue and action-adventure tale, The Sea Captain's Wife
is a marvellous read."
"Epic in its emotional intensity… The work also succeeds at painting a vivid and vibrant portrait of the Atlantic Canadian landscape during the last days of the age of sail."
—The Chronicle Herald
"It is swashbuckling, it is heart-rending and readers will shed tears."