Many say they’ve defeated the overly detailed and praised American novel, Moby Dick, but in truth, hardly any finish it.
It’s not a massive novel, around 469 pages, a good reader can finish it in a few weeks. Yet, the notorious later chapters, including chapter 23 found some few hundred pages in, is the archetypal speed bump of narrative. Unless a love for cetaceans like the contemporary commentary from the fellow whale lover Philip Hoare is shared, the later chapters are tough going.
Nevertheless the detail is the tip of the iceberg. The novel’s riddled in symbolism. Since published in 1851, the story has been subject for many debates. Personally I found that after the first three to four pages, it became swiftly clearly to understand why so many give this novel such a wide berth.
Moby Dick is a tale of obsession, human animistic rage and revenge, set in an overly descriptive world with copious amounts of detail. It’s brooding and revealing characters vast use of excessive language, combined with my own love of the sea and whales, were indeed the cruxes as to why I decided to take on this leviathan of a book; the final irony being, they were the catalyst as to why I also couldn’t finish it.
My first port of call in this review is to further extend some reading advice. Be sure to have a clear head and be well rested before opening it’s pages. Don’t under any circumstances finish a session halfway though a chapter. The chapters are actually rather short, at around three to four double pages making the novel the perfect toilet companion. Nevertheless, these chapters can be simply dedicated to the description of a painting hanging on the walls of some sea dogs regular Friday night dive. Which can certainly put a lot of impatient readers off. Don’t be, within each of Ishmael’s lavishly detailed accounts of inanimate objects, there exists an arch of some-kind, often a really clever vehicle for character and plot development. Within the details we learn something new, the story progresses and your admiration for the authors talent is realised.
Set in a time where going to sea was considered a calling of the manliest of working class men, you’re really made to feel a part of it. Read best on a stormy evening and with no distractions. In truth, it’s taken me the better part of 3 years to read this book. It is so heavy going with a pace to rival any 19th century sea voyage.
I finished it having (rather shamefully) skipping many of the pages, I could never really imagine that Ishmael, being a whaler of the 19th Century, would be so equipped in his use of language to sting such detailed and elaborate sentences together. His words appear to be more belonging to an educated man’s vocabulary, rather than someone who very likely never attended school.
The pace is extremely slow, you may even grow to hate Ishmael, as he sidelines most of the books action. During those moments you will put the book down. You will tell yourself that perhaps you’re not intelligent enough to grasp it’s epic detail or that maybe you’re really best sticking to DVD box sets or waiting for the Hollywood movie that’s due to come out later in the year. You will spend some chapters wondering why you didn’t pick another classic like Paradise Lost or Huxley’s one where all the children are robbed of their childhoods.
If you can look beyond all of the many reasons not to read this book, you’ll find that the story has everything you want; It’s very funny and has a lot of comedic charm, Ishmael certainly in the off set comes across fairly camp in his protesting of dilemmas “”Better sleep with a sober cannibal”, says Ishmael, when forced to share a bed with the tattooed harpooner Queequeg, “than a drunken Christian!” Ishmael is also a wonderful protagonist that you can really relate to, in spite of his obsession of detail or of the gulf of time that separates you both, he’s very much an everyday man, seeking adventure and admiration of his superiors. Which is exactly why the antagonist is so brilliant in his one track obsession to care about little else, than vengeance with the White Whale.