Moby Dick is one of those books, like War and Peace, that kind of separates the serious reader from the airport novel consumer. It’s not like Proust, which even serious readers have second thoughts about tackling; it’s more commonly known and thus more commonly feared.
I didn’t find it a difficult read at all actually. That’s, thankfully, because Melville keeps conversational interchanges to a minimum. The guy absolutely could not write conversation. Most characters babble away to themselves as if they’ve just consumed a pint of LSD and are having the trip of their lifetimes. By the end of the book, I was skim reading anything in quotes I came across. It was all, up to that point, meaningless and lent nothing at all to the novel except to reinforce my belief that, to embark on a whaler, you had to have at least one screw, if not several, very loose indeed.
The eponymous Ishmael from the famous opening line embarks on a whaler after an amusing incident with what he regards as a cannibal in an inn on the Nantucket coast. Cherish this moment. It’s pretty much the last amusing incident for another 600 pages.
We then come to know the Pequod, for that is the ship’s name, pretty well as Melville uses Ishmael as his amanuensis to both tell the story of Capt. Ahab’s hunt for the whale that removed his leg and also, mostly actually, tell us everything there is to know about both whales and the process of whaling.
I found most of this pretty interesting, but I can understand why many do not. I actually found the storyline a bit thin and the less said about the aforementioned dialogue the better. So, I was glad to actually learn a great deal about what was understood about whales at the time and to get a glimpse of a mammal that has all but disappeared and a way of life which has all but disappeared with it. Judging from the one quote I gathered along the way however (see below), I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.
Melville never profited from the novel in his lifetime. In actual fact, many didn’t like it and his reputation took quite a blow from the bad British reviews that influenced US public opinion. This is understandable in a way. Many might find the novel is not an easy read. It combines several different styles of writing in, at the time, a unique way which is often hard to follow. It is though a piece of writing which shows that the novel can be a very flexible art form indeed and one which becomes an important part of our collective history.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings