Review: Moby-Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

PAPERBACK; 663 P.
PENGUIN CLASSICS, 2002/1851
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

“It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.”

So Melville wrote of his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imaginations in literary history. In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

In the beginning of June I announced that I would take part in the Moby-Dick: A Whale of a Read-along hosted by Roof Beam Reader. The plan of this read-along was to read the book in one and a half months, but for me it took two months of on-and-off reading to finally finish Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is essentially a story about a whaling quest. The narrator, Ishmael, is looking for a new adventure and recruits himself to a whaling boat called Pequod. Before enlisting on this ship, Ishmael befriends an experienced whaler and pagan aborigine, Queequeg, with whom they set on their whaling journey under captain Ahab. However, Ahab has a quest of his own – to hunt down the whale that took his leg, Moby-Dick. The book is part adventure, part whaling encyclopedia, and part moral pondering.

Moby-Dick is considered by some as the greatest American novel ever written, and although I might not completely agree with this sentiment, I must however admit that it is an epic read. The plot is often interrupted by long chapters of cetology (study of whales) or descriptions of whaling practices or insights to the lives of the crew members. As much as I enjoyed these, there were several occasions that I hoped to get back into the quest itself. Ishmael presents whales as god-like creatures that are surrounded by mystery and that no man has been able to fully understand. In addition, Moby-Dick is filled with numerous allusions to Bible which makes it a very intertextual read. But beside whales, the book studies also the human nature through the crew of Pequod.

I enjoyed several parts of the book, but it also reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway in the sense that I had a feeling that I didn’t completely understand what was happening or what was referenced. I had read Melville before (Bartleby, The Scrivener) and I knew his writing style was eccentric and prone to getting a bit off tangent. However, I did enjoy his insights on life and death, tolerance and the double standards that are used in placing man above everything else. The characters in Moby-Dick are definitely memorable and for that, I’d definitely recommend you read Moby-Dick. It is a challenging book, but there is  a reason why it is part of the canon. For more thoughts on Moby-Dick, check out also Fariba’s review.

3/5 

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Moby-Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

    • I can understand how it might get buried under other books in your TBR. I have several big classics – Anna Karenina, David Copperfield, The Egyptian – that I’ve been avoiding mainly because of their size. However, I’m glad that you thought my review encouraging 🙂

  1. I didn’t like Moby Dick that much.Just when the crew was embarking on an exciting adventure,you see a sheer number of digressions coming your way! And that occurs on many occasions in the book.
    The digressions were rather interesting,but reading them in such a book made them a bit boring.And you’re right when saying that at times you didn’t know what was happening.Melville’s writing is not at all fluid,but rather quite archaic.For instance I hardly understood anything when Fedallah and the rest of Ahab’s crew appeared! I had to read that part again and again and again…

    Just imagine! That was my first classic ever and I wondered if I made the right choice to read this book! I was even about to give up reading classics just because of Moby Dick! It’s not horrible,but very heavy and at times frustrating! It definitely is not the type of book I would recommend to someone unacquainted with classics!

    • True, this probably wouldn’t be the best choice for the “first classic”. However, I’m glad that you didn’t let it dissuade you from reading classics!

  2. Just because something something is a classic doesn’t make it enjoyable. For me, this is one of those instances. I found this boring and dry, but then again the subject matter and plot weren’t really of interest to me, and I read it just to say I had.
    Might I suggest The Picture of Dorian Gray for your next classic, if you’ve not already read it. There is one really tedious chapter. And there are several gay themes in it. As long as your cool with those two things it will be one of the most amazing books you’ve ever read.

    • Thank you for your comment! It is true that just because something is a classic, it should be enjoyed by everyone. I did in fact read and review The Picture of Dorian Gray back in May and I absolutely loved it! ❤

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