Sunday, 27 March 2016

Moby Dick

Has’t thou seen the white whale?

Rating: 8 out of 10

Despite Moby Dick; or, The Whale having an almost mythic status today, in Melville’s own era this nautical epic was panned. For a long time, there wasn’t much that enticed me to read Moby Dick but seeing that the juggernaut actor Brendan Gleeson was in the film In the Heart of the Sea (based of the true events that inspired Moby Dick) I thought it was time to go on a ‘fishing’ adventure.

Call me Ishamel

Ishmael has to be one of my favourite narrators in literature. In the first third of the novel especially, Ishmael’s observations are so sharp and witty that they could easily be placed into the mouth of a comedian today. Ishmael is also a very comprehensive narrator (which goes someway to explain the length of Moby Dick) and for any readers who love intricate novels full of foreshadowing then I would highly recommend this. I think it would also get better the more you read it because there is so much to potentially ponder on and to discover each time.

The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven.

I definitely did not expect Moby Dick to be as good as it was. I anticipated it being a bit dry and dated. Personally, I think the relationship between Ishmael and the Polynesian Queequeg to be ahead of its time. Queequeg is presented in a very respectful manner, even with his ‘pagan’ religion, despite being a clear outsider to the Western norm. The two have a great friendship, which is surprising given the racial tensions in America at the time (understatement of the 2016). There are also slight homosexual undertones in Moby Dick.

To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order.

The only downside for me was the long digressions about whales. Sure, some of the facts make for good things to casually drop into a conversation like ‘whales only breathe on a Sunday’ and if there was ever a shortage of people to do a post-mortem on whales I could probably assist them. Even so, it got to the point where I was beginning to wonder whether Moby Dick actually existed. 

It is worth persevering to the end because the end itself redeems the whale waffling and heck, at least you can say I’ve read Moby DickAt least with the whale digressions, Melville (pictured below) knows what he is talking about. Melville's experience as a whaler resonates throughout as well. Personally, I would have preferred more time dedicated to describing what happened at the end but I guess it is a nautical novel so it's not highly unexpected. Without the digressions, this would easily have been 10/10 but they just left me so frustrated.

I would really recommend the audiobook narrated by the American actor William Hootkins, especially if you're a bit apprehensive about the language. Hootkins' voices are superb. Each character is distinct; faithful yet respectful is always what should be aimed for. He really captures all the various emotions, especially Captain Ahab’s obsessional nature and rage. The audiobook probably added to my enjoyment of Moby Dick. If people are looking to become narrators, I'd tell them to study Hootkins and I'd even go so far as to look at trying to see if I could watch him in a film.

I’m not really amazed that so many high-profile writers wished they wrote Moby Dick. With so many pages, an awful lot could have gone wrong but Moby Dick is an amazing testament to Melville’s abilities as a writer. Aside from the whale lectures, it is beautifully written containing both comedy and tragedy. It’s an excellent examination of an obsessional rage and portrayal of relationships. Even if you don’t care for the maritime, don’t write off Moby Dick too flippantly.


  1. Wonderful review...this is how it is done!
    Your points are valid, supported and well written, bravo!
    So glad to hear another blogger pleased with an audio book, the voices make the writing come alive! I will see the audio books available with Hootkin's narration! Thanks for the tip.

    1. Thanks! Moby Dick has such a plethora of fantastic quotes it makes writing a review rather easier than normal. I love audiobooks, especially when I'm walking the dog. I hope you enjoy Hootkins :-) Thanks for your lovely comments :-)

  2. I read MD in 2012, and I miss it. Yes, it went on and on about whales, and it feels like the chunk of the plot is at the very end; but the whole story maintains a special atmosphere, and I think you hit on it when you said the narrator was your favorite (of narration). The reader can or may develop a relationship with the narrator, and that is what makes the atmosphere unique.

    1. You're spot on about the book having a very special atmosphere! I think you do develop a relationship in a way you develop one with people you meet in real life (and let's be honest, you probably know more about some characters than some people in real life because they're not very open for whatever reason). It's a good reflection of the writer's abilities when you can have that type of relationship because it's not easy to create if the individual is underdeveloped or stale. I hope you get to re-read it again anyway cause it's an amazing tale.

  3. Though I am not as big a fan overall as you, I especially liked Ishmael's careful, yet poetic description of people: Ahab, the mates, the pagan harpooners...especially Queequeg "He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor." Excellent review.

    1. Thanks! I love your quote and definitely agree there's a poetic nature to it. Ishmael certainly avoids clichés and sees the world in a unique way. :)


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