Friday, May 3, 2013

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Why should the "Great American Classic" sound better with British voices?  I don't know, but listening to the Moby Dick Big Read finally enabled me to tackle this intimidating novel.  The first chapter (narrated by Tilda Swinton) was so well done that I was hooked.  Other bloggers had mentioned that the book had funny moments, but I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't read/heard it for myself.  Ishmael's initial encounter with Queequeg is just one of several amusing scenes.  But Moby Dick is far from a comedy.

One blogger has linked to the negative reviews at  Although I laughed at most of them, I have to agree that the book sometimes lacks flow.  Many chapters seem disjointed and some could even be removed without hurting the story.  There are chapters on whale bones, whale blubber, whale heads, the whale's color, etc.  I finally came to the conclusion that the author was just as monomaniacal about whales as Ahab was about one particular whale.  Yet, this is more than a novel about whales. It's a fascinating look into the hearts of men: their superstitions, their hopes, their motives.  And it's beautifully written.  In spite of the tedious bits, I reveled in Melville's biblical allusions and his luscious metaphors:

On Queequeg deep in the hull: Stripped to his woolen drawers, the tattooed savage was crawling about amid the dampness and slime like a green-spotted lizard at the bottom of a well. (Chapter 110)

On the appetites of the harpooners: While their masters seemed afraid of the sound of their own jaws, they [the harpooners]dined like lords; they filled their bellies like Indian ships all day loading with spices. (Chapt. 34)

I feel inadequate to review this masterpiece and refer you to another blogger who has done it quite well.  I look forward to reading a physical copy of this book in the future to better savor the beautiful language.


Sarah at SmallWorld said...

One classic I have yet to read. Somehow I just can't bring myself to tackle it!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I've never been very interested in attempting his one, but your quotes make it sound a little more palatable.