Review ~ Moby-Dick

Cover via Goodreads

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

‘Call me Ishmael.’

So begins Herman Melville’s masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. As Ishmael is drawn into Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest to slay the white whale Moby-Dick, he finds himself engaged in a metaphysical struggle between good and evil. More than just a novel of adventure, more than an paean to whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting social commentary, populated by some of the most enduring characters in literature; the crew of the Pequod, from stern, Quaker First Mate Starbuck, to the tattooed Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, are a vision of the world in microcosm, the pinnacle of Melville’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is a profound, poetic inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?

I have a degree in literature, yet I had never read Moby-Dick. My reading in college was pointed toward pre-1800 and my reading for fun has been mostly post-1970 with a few exceptions. I have a wonderful huge gap to fill!

What Worked/What Didn’t Work

I decided this year to make an effort to point out what works/what doesn’t work in what I’m reading and, at the second review of the year, I’m stymied.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from Moby-Dick. Obviously, I knew this was a story about ill-fated obsession. I knew many of the names. I knew there were going to be long passages about whales and whaling, circa 1850. What I didn’t expect was just how odd of a tapestry this book is. There are adventure bits. There are poetical, metaphysical digressions. There is bawdy humor and Shakespearean soliloquies. And yes, a lot about whales and whaling.

The summary above kind of makes me roll my eyes because it plays up the “literature” aspects of the book. As a mostly genre reader (despite my degree), I think it’s those other things—all the boring reality, all the dirty adventure—that make Moby-Dick work. This novel is sort of a weird ride. Much like Shakespeare’s plays, especially if you’re reading/watching them for the first time, if you let the text carry you along, you get a sense of the thing. Will I read Mody-Dick again? Maybe. If I do, I’m pretty sure the next time would be a totally different experience.

Observation: The only writer I know of that “tastes” a bit like Moby-Dick (I won’t say Melville since I don’t know him well as an author) is Ray Bradbury.

Observation: Having read War of the Worlds and Moby-Dick nearly back to back, I get this sense that science was folded into literature more often in the past. Maybe this is a reflection of the times, maybe of the authors, maybe of the genres; I don’t know, but it’s something I enjoy.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Pigeonhole, public domain, originally published 1851
Acquired: May 20, 2014
Genre:  According to Wikipedia: Novel, adventure fiction, epic, sea story, encyclopedic novel. I guess I agree.

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9 thoughts on “Review ~ Moby-Dick

  1. I’m guessing you already know that Bradbury wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby-Dick film (with Gregory Peck)? If not, spot on observation! 🙂 I waited until I was in my 30s to read Moby-Dick and probably benefited from putting it off. I really liked it and went on to read a bunch of other lesser-read HM like Typee and Billy Budd (the latter being my fav).

    1. I read Bradbury’s *Green Shadows, White Whale* (his fictionalization of writing the script) ages ago, but I’d forgotten about it until a was a ways into *Moby-Dick* and thinking, “Wow, this is like reading Bradbury.” I’ve never seen the film version, so that’s next up. 🙂

  2. I was in my 40’s before I read it. Really liked it but what I thought was weird was that it seemed like you could read each chapter individually out of order and it would still make sense in an odd sort of way.

    1. I was really surprised at the wide range of tone from chapter to chapter. My husband noted that he remembers reading “The Albatross” chapter in an anthology in grade school, found it dull, and never wanted to read more of the novel. Too bad that they didn’t choose something a little more rip-roaring!

  3. Aarghhh! Just when I thought I’d escaped that pesky whale! 😉 I think you enjoyed it considerably more than I did – I’m not very patient with all the digressions and the Shakespearian stuff drove me crazy. Why, Melville – why?? I’m very impressed that you think you might read it again someday! So will I – if I ever I get stuck on a desert island and it’s the only book available… 😉

  4. Moby Dick is a novel to be read slowly I think. Sometimes I just open the book at random and read a page or two and am astonished. Reading Melville sparked me to read Melville in Love by Michael Sheldon and The Whale Love Story by Mark Beauregard, both about Melville and his life and writing of Moby Dick. It’s so sad that Moby Dick was considered a commercial failure during Melville’s years with few sales. Reviews were pretty bad for the most part.

  5. Pingback: What Else 2017, Week 5 – The Writerly Reader

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