Review: Moby Dick, or The Whale

Title: Moby Dick
Author: Herman Melville
Publication: 1977 by Easton Press
Format: Hardcover

Book Synopsis

On board the whaling ship Pequod, a crew of wise men and fools, renegades, and seeming phantoms is hurled through treacherous seas by a crazed captain hell-bent on hunting down Moby Dick, the mythic White Whale who left him crippled. As the “”great flood-gates of the wonder-world”” swing open, Melville transforms the little world of the whale-ship into a crucible where mankind’s fears, faith and frailties are pitted against a relentless fate. Teeming with ideas and imagery, and with its extraordinary, compressed intensity sustained by a buoyant, mischievous irony and by moments of exquisite beauty, Melville’s masterpiece is both a great American epic and one of the most profoundly imaginative creations in literary history.

What I Thought About It . . .

I’ve always wanted to read the actual version of this book. When I was a child, I read one of those adapted versions for a child’s reading level but I did like it. So this has been a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages. I happened to be at a local used bookshop in a nearby town when I found this beautiful leather bound edition on the used shelf for a mere ten dollars. There is some slight water damage on some of the pages at the bottom, but apart from that it is otherwise in great condition. This is a book with a past.

Anyway I started reading it slowly and I found that I have enjoyed it a great deal. Melville does a wonderful job of setting the stage and I think I would like to read more of his works. In one respect I knew what to expect from the story, but it was also so much more than I had anticipated. There are several chapters that talk of whales in history, science, art, literature, and mythology. I did not see all of that coming, but being the geek that I am, I liked it very much. Once Ishmael boards the infamous ship captained by Ahab, he ceases to become just another whaler and it seems almost as if he becomes a philosopher. Most of the exploits described thereafter happen to the other crew. I find myself at times wondering, “Is Ishmael a whaler or a scholar?” I often found myself forgetting that Ishmael was supposed to be narrating this tale. Is that normal?

I had expected going into this novel not really liking it all that much. Perhaps sitting in that indifferent sphere that is a terrible place for a reader to be because you cannot decide whether or not you like something with any degree of certainty. I was told by someone who read the book that I would find myself often wondering what the point of many chapters were as I perused it. In truth I expected to be bored reading this book. However, I am delighted that this wasn’t the case. There’s just something about Melville’s writings that drew me in and I wanted to know how it ended. Learning about the odds and ends of being on a whaling vessel made the story feel realistic too. Despite all beliefs to the contrary, I happened to like it a lot.

The only parts of the book that I didn’t particularly enjoy happened to be the hunting and butchering of the whales. As someone who has always loved whales since I was a small tyke, it’s hard to understand how I can find myself so enthralled by something that seeks to kill such beautiful creatures. The scene with the pod of pregnant and nursing cows and calves… did the other hunters slaughter them the same as the others? I wonder, but it is still depressing to think of. Why I like this novel is something of an enigma, I believe. How can something written so eloquently revolve around something so horrible?



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