Saturday, 29 October 2016

Book #56

Moby Dick by Herman Melville


In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

I used to think it entirely blasphemous to loathe a great work of fiction with my entire being, but here we are. Moby Dick was an absolute slog, an utter bore, and (no apologies here) a waste of my precious reading time. I persevered, I read all 600-odd pages, I looked up things I didn't understand, I tried to get with the overly eloquent language and the tedious factual offerings which removed me from the plot. I did everything. I hated it.

The tale of one man's vengeance against the sea monster who nibbled off his leg, in my mind, was going to be what all the classics lovers in the land said it was going be - epic. There is nothing epic about interrupting a plot with grand commentary on whale anatomy, the origins and evil of the colour white, or where each nail and screw goes on a ship. If Queequeg was in my flat, I'd have allowed him to eat my eyes.

I did enjoy some of the commentary, particularly the racist custom of the time, and seeing this being different when away from land. I loved Ishmael and Queequeg's relationship at the beginning of the novel, but would've liked to see more of the comical and loving side of them once they were onboard the Pequod. I also loved the homoerotic tones that came from men on a boat squeezing a load of sperm in a bucket, and squeezing each others' hands at the same time. Oh, Melville!

Few of the characters had any real charm, with most of the crew bleeding into each other until you couldn't tell one from the other. Ishmael was merely there to put the whole thing into words, and barely got involved in what was going on. Ahab was originally painted as a demoniac monomaniac, but quickly turned into a sad old man who needed to go home and assess his priorities.

I'd feel like a high school English student being force fed Moby Dick if I called it boring, so in the interest of expressing my vocabulary, it was completely spiritless. It was also boring.

Being about a third of the way through Moby Dick, and realising you're in the middle of nowhere in the throes of insanity, is probably a lot like being on a three-year voyage with this lot. Nowhere to turn, with the days (or pages) fading into one another, hating everyone you come into contact with, and when everyone dies, you're just glad it's finally over. If I rationalise that in my mind as what Melville was trying to achieve, I'll feel a lot better about spending so much time on this gargantuan monolithic nightmare of a novel.

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