Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Book 38 of 2013: Moby Dick: or, The White Whale by Herman Melville

Last year I read In The Heart Of The Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick  which looked at the events which inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. I needed a book beginning with the letter M for the Summer Challenge in the HTV Reading Challenge and Moby Dick had been on my list of books to read for ages. I figured I could kill a few birds with one stone, plus it seemed like a classic and one of those books you should probably read at some point. Plus it was one of the first books I downloaded onto my new Kindle Fire so it seemed like a good choice.

It really wasn’t.

The basic story of Moby Dick is that a man, who asks the reader to call him Ishmael, joins the crew of a whaling boat led by Captain Ahab who lost a leg to the White Whale which is known as Moby Dick. They set off on a whaling trip to collect spermaceti oil, but also with the intention of killing Moby Dick.

I was imagining an adventure on the high seas, chasing whales and with similar events to those experienced by the men on board the boat the Essex. The fact that this book took me from July 1st to July 17th should give you an idea of just how much I struggled with it, normally I can get through a book this size relatively quickly, but that was not the case this time. I really did not enjoy it at all.

It seemed like an awful lot of time was spent talking about things other than the story. At one point several pages are spent detailing various different sorts of whale, what they look like, where their oil is found and what its general consistency is! There’s also a great deal of detail about the tools that are used, bits of the boat and various other things. An abridged version of this book could easily have been about a quarter of the length of this.

In addition to this they don’t actually catch a whale until halfway through the book (after we’ve learnt all about the different sorts of whales, the different things they use to catch them, etc.) and Moby Dick, the title character, didn’t actually make an appearance until around 10% from the end of the book! It could easily have been called A Bunch of Men Sailing Round on a Boat Not Getting Up to Much!

The book also jumped around in the way that the story was being told, which was kind of jarring. Sometimes it was written in first-person point-of-view, occasionally it jumped to third-person point-of-view, and at one point it actually went into a script format for a chapter. It was quite strange, as though Melville couldn’t decide exactly what sort of story he was going to write. It made it even harder to follow what was going on in between all the technical information that was getting in the way of the story.

On the one hand, I’m glad that I’ve read it, because now I can say that I have. But I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to.

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