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.

Moby-Dick: A Whale of a Read-Along!

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From the kind suggestion of Fariba from Exploring classics, I decided to tackle one of the big classics of American literature: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I was bummed to miss Bout of Books 10.0 in May, so taking part in a read-along in June sounds like the perfect antidote to this. The read-along is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and it takes place from June 1st to July 15th. The average page count for each day is thus 15 pages, which is very doable. I’m already a bit behind because I haven’t still finished The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I’ll try to catch up soon. I don’t know yet if I’ll do any update posts on this book, but I’ll try to participate in the discussions and Twitter chats.