Mind over matter
The first thing you see when you look at a book is its cover, whether you judge it or not. Standing on a Whale is wonderfully wrapped in a very serene cover, but it was the title that caught my attention. A phenomenal metaphor on what matters in life, and how we see ourselves, gives a clue to the real topic of the book, although it is skilfully woven into the intriguing plot and revealed at the very end of the story.
If you are looking for a fast-paced, action thriller brimming with sensationalism, gore and sex, this is not the book for you. There are sensational ideas, there is a thrilling socio-political intrigue, but all serving as backdrop for something else.
This is one of those books you do not rush through, but stop and ponder the chapters and ideas, as you follow a prominent doctor, Lance Stavros, on his path from near suicide to rediscovering himself. From the gripping opening (spoiler alert – a shocking revelation that he contemplated suicide even as a boy), through a complete change in his life, you will find yourself warming up to the man, as cold and distant as he may seem to you (and to himself) at first.
As Lance takes care of a mystic who motivates the doctor to change his own life and make some choices, you are led into a merciless political power-play, stopping at nothing, not even taking life when threatened by all that which is different and promotes critical thinking. Lance’s life is shaken to the core, but he finds himself fighting for it. As you discover his relationships with people, past and present, his detached and tormenting family life, and the way other people perceive him, you realize that Lance, like so many of us, has a complete misconception of himself, underestimating himself every step of the way and not living to his fullest potential. The mystic, Hadden, as impressive as mystics get, never steals the show, guiding Lance with his public lectures and their private conversations about politics, love, religion, choices. Yet, just when you think Lance is getting too dependent on Hadden, life changes the conditions of their bond and shows us that every choice is our own.
As you read, like with the flow of tide, you swim through philosophical lectures on life and real life-threatening situations, and just like in life, reading those talks elates you and/or disturbs you, pointing out the painfully obvious problems of human society and the wonders of our capabilities.
The characters are lively and convincing, even the mystical Hadden, whose physical ailments make him as vulnerable and ephemeral as the rest of us, despite his enormous positive energy and an amazing mind. The myriad of people, from the passer-by waiters at a restaurant, to Lance and the enigmatic women in his life, is brimming with life, some quite untypical – there is a wise teenager, a caring lawyer, a kind civil servant. The author possesses an amazing lightness of telling, using rich vocabulary but uncomplicated syntax, which is easy to follow, and balances narration and dialogue with action and description. I especially liked the vivacious detailed descriptive passages of Greece, the market place, the restaurant, Hawk’s Landing, Layla’s estate.
If you find yourself, or know anyone who is at a turning point of their life, tired of the stress and constant quickening, this is the book for you. If you dare to step out of your comfort zone and venture a meditative story, not devoid of reality but not consumed by it, this is the book for you.
And for all its almost tragic beginning, and some real tragedies and twists throughout, once you read the last line and remember the beginning, you realize what a journey Standing on a Whale has been. ‘Anything is possible, anything at all…’