Mark Jones's Reviews > Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
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May 13, 14

Read from August 15 to October 23, 2011 — I own a copy

Wow... This was quite an undertaking... Took me two months to get through the bastard... Moby-Dick has a reputation for being a formidable read, and that reputation is certainly not undeserved. Googling about for a review, I found this:

"What are you getting into? You’re getting into some pretty deep shit, for sure."

I'd agree with that.

Initially, the book feels like conventional story, structured in no unusual way, containing nothing too aberrant or confusing, nothing too deep or complex... Lulling you into a false security... But as soon as the Pequod sets sail... This becomes an epic tale of Whaling, as vast and eternal as the seas in which it is set. All forms of identification with the narrator dissolve, and you are thrust into a narrative injected with complex philosophical analyses, mingled with a dispersed treatise on every aspect of whaling and life at sea. This ceases to be a story in the conventional sense, instead using the setting of a whaling adventure as a premise for these studies of human psychology, god, life and, of course, the ruinous obsession that can run poisonously in human veins.

Whilst starting in first person, with the famous line "Call me Ishmael." the narrator quickly vanishes, becoming disembodied, reappearing only occasionally, giving you the bookends of conventional story that help knit the whole thing together, but sometimes leaving you lost and disorientated, surrounded by philosophies, lengthy descriptions and the unforgiving sea. "However baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him."

In Moby-Dick, it is not simply Ahab and Moby-Dick who take the centre stage, but a whole range of ideas and philosophies, studied in detail through the eyes and souls of the Pequod and its crew. "In the pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed." Frequent are the references to such faults in the human psyche, and the language throughout dips in and out of these beautiful, labyrinth passages filled with abstruse references and language that seems fundamentally different to the bare, undecorated language seen in everyday life.

This is a literary experience, a piece of artwork revealed through words. "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee." It is also a caveat on the futility of revenge. The ultimate tale of obsession leading inexorably to ruin, ignorant of warning signs, ignorant of Starbuck's desperate entreaties. Ahab is the murderer of his crew; the sea merely his instrument.
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08/15/2011 page 30
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