Angie's Reviews > Moby Dick

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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May 09, 09

Recommended to Angie by: The Literary Community at large, but mostly Dave
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to hack it
Read in September, 2008, read count: 1

Time to be a real English major....
Okay, I've finally finished the thing, and it is a leviathan. What to say about Moby-Dick....? Well, after finishing the book, I went back and read the introduction (I generally prefer to read the introduction after I finish the book). The introduction tells the story of a prominent literary type at a university being asked what he believed to be the greatest English novel. He replied that Middlemarch (doch!---still haven't read that one) would be his candidate, unless the question included all books written in the English language...in that case, Moby-Dick would be his choice, of course. I will concede that I can understand where he's coming from. It is true that Melville thinks about his words. He chooses them carefully (and he chooses A LOT of them). Also, I know there are layers of Moby-Dick that I haven't even begun to comprehend and symbolism that flew right over my head (I've got to pick up some Cliff's Notes). I realize that in Moby-Dick Melville examines some big questions about life, death, and what drives us. I know there is historical significance to Moby-Dick and that Melville was also making some allegorical statements about the trials of the United States at the time. Yes, yes, all masterfully done, I'm sure, BUT...did I enjoy it? Sometimes, yes, but sometimes, I just wanted to get through the darn thing. I put off reading Moby-Dick all this time because in high school I read Billy Budd, which is a 90 page novel about a 2 page story, and I didn't love it. Well, Moby-Dick is a 600 page novel about maybe a 100 page story. I have a lot more patience for philosophical meanderings and extra information now than I did then though. In fact, now I even like some philosophy and extra information, but I admit that I did sometimes want to yell, "Shut up, Herman...get back to the story!" (Melville talks about whales and the mechanics of whaling A LOT, which is interesting, though it's kinda hard to get behind the whole whaling thing in this day and age when whaling is so frowned upon. There's actually a bit where Ismael/Melville goes off on how whaling could never actually endanger the whale, the whale is in no danger of extinction, etc. hmmm....) Anyway, the beginning of the story is entertaining, even pretty funny sometimes. We start with Ishmael starting an adventure to escape his melancholy. He meets the kind cannibal Queequeg (funny bit); they find whaling work on the Pequod. The Pequod's owners are a couple of somewhat amusing fellows...then Ishmael gets on the ship. You'd think the story would really get rolling at this point, but it slows down. Yes, there are exciting bits like when a guy falls into a the head of a beheaded whale which then becomes detached from the side of ship (yeah, they keep 'em there for awhile), and the guy almost drowns but for the awesomeness of Queequeg (wierd, yes, but entertaining). But mainly, the story slows down. Moby-Dick doesn't even rear his big, white head until the last thirty pages or so. Also, Ishmael becomes an omniscient narrator, gets really into giving the reader a lot of information about whales, and seriously pumps up the philosophical meanderings. (Now, if it were some B novel, I'm sure this shift in Ishmael's ability to narrate and also his shift in personality would be criticized, but apparently it's a good thing in Moby-Dick...well, okay.) I will not say the philosophical/informational stuff is uninteresting, but I did get impatient with it. Moving on to character and dialogue. I thought they were good. I wouldn't have minded more focus on them though. Ishmael, as before mentioned, I found inconsistent, but he holds a strange position in the novel. Ahab is grand and awful, but honestly, I expected to see more of him. What we get of Ahab is pretty intense, but we don't even meet the guy for a couple hundred pages, and his appearances are actually kinda sparse in between the meandering stuff. Queequeg is wonderful and endearing. The first, second, and third mate are all pretty good, particularly Starbuck, the first mate. He is the only one to attempt to get Ahab to see reason. He should've killed Ahab when he had the chance...but then...well, then of course the novel would not be what it is at all, and we can believe Starbuck's character to be too honorable to do the thing, though it would've saved many lives. I better wrap this up if I'm gonna sit here accusing Melville of too much wordiness, I guess. All in all, I see how this novel has attained its status...however, I can't say I loved reading it. I would still give the title for Great American Novel to Huckleberry Finn, hands down. Nevertheless, you gotta read Moby-Dick, because, hey, it's Moby-Dick, right?
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Antenen Let me know if you make it through. I'm having trouble. Keep re-reading and falling asleep. Are whales just not my thing? Some good humor in the first part where Ishmael meets Queequeg. Found myself laughing out loud. I plowed through the whale biology, the crew Starbuck, Stubb and Flask and the other harpooners Tashtego and Dagoo. I've barely met Ahab, don't know where Elijah fits in yet and can't for the life of me pronounce Peleg, Bildad or the ship Pequod. I repeat, let me know if you make it through.


Angie Chris, I appreciate your comment and your interest. As you can see, I have finished the book and written my review. I hope your copy of Moby-Dick at least has some decent explanatory notes (mine addressed the names Peleg, Bildad, and Pequod). I don't know if you've made it through yet, but I know where you're coming from and best of luck to you!


message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Antenen Thanks, Angie. I took a break and read Atonement (talk about wordy) and a couple of short stories, but I'm ready to plunge in again -- accidental pun -- and I will go back and read the rest of the introductory notes -- I quit in the middle. I did look online for some help, but didn't find any pronunciations. I get so frustrated when I read along and stumble because I can't hear a word in my head (no, I don't think my lips move :) I'm trying to go back and read all the classics I missed, but sometimes it's not as pleasant as one would think. Many of them are framed in a time I can't inhabit easily. You've been helpful and given me the push to finish Moby.


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