Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

Moby Dick
Herman Melville
Classic Century Works
Fiction, Literary Fiction
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: In the mid-1800's, the heydey of Nantucket's whaling fleets, itinerant Ishmael heeds a nameless urge to sail the seas. When he signs on to the Pequod, he finds himself under the command of the one-legged Captain Ahab, a man who has bent the whole of his being - and the whole of the crew - to the pursuit of Moby Dick, the whale that crippled him.
NOTE: The edition linked to is not the exact edition reviewed.

REVIEW: I picked this title as part of a reading challenge, Moby Dick being one of many classics I haven't gotten around to yet. But for the challenge, and a promising (if somewhat slow) beginning, I would've thrown in the towel before the halfway mark. Melville, through Ishmael and other characters, waxes poetic and profound on all manner of topics, some only tangentially related to the voyage... then, to be sure the audience understood just how profound he was being, he repeats himself. (If you have to explain the brilliance of your insights, your insights can't have been that brilliant. Either that, or you consider your audience to be exceedingly dim.) Roughly half of the book has nothing at all to do with Ahab or the voyage, being dedicated to the history of whaling, cetacean anatomy, and other subjects. By the time Melville remembers the main storyline, most of the characters he painstakingly described and established are just a heap of forgotten names, the story arc and tension shattered in the wakes of so many leviathan-sized interruptions. It doesn't help that much of that painstaking effort establishing characters falls completely by the wayside as Ishmael and others grow increasingly philosophical and fatalistic; for instance, much effort goes into describing the savage harpooner Queequeg and his bond with Ishmael, but they hardly exchange two words once the Pequod's ill-fated voyage leaves Nantucket. (As for rampant racism and Ishmael/Melville's peculiar notion that whales were immune to extinction, among other oddities, this was written in the 1800's...) After agonizingly slow and wordy fits and starts and circular side-tracks, the final 70-odd pages pick up for a decent, if drawn-out, finale. The whole thing, frankly, reads as if Melville badly needed an editor, or at least one good final read of his draft before publication. While there are some few memorable moments and characters, the blubber-to-meat ratio is far too fatty for my tastes.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex - Illustrated (Owen Chase, et al.) - My Review
Stowaway (Karen Hesse) - My Review
Whale Rider (Witi Ihimaera) - My Review

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