I have a confession to make. Before I got my Kindle I wasn’t particularly well-read. I had read an awful lot but when it came to any kind of classic literature there was a big hole in my repertoire. As most of you will know you can download books that have fallen into the public domain (i.e. out of copyright) for free. That includes a whole bunch of classic novels. So when I first got my Kindle I downloaded loads of famous works of literature, which I have been working through interspersed with assignments from book club, questionable Young Adult fiction and Game of Thrones. Some of them I absolutely fell in love with – Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Three Musketeers and absolutely everything Sherlock Holmes being among the favourites. Others have been less good and I don’t think I would recommend Madame Bovary or Tess of the D’Ubervilles to anyone.
Moby Dick is my latest foray into classic literature exploration.
Call me Ishmael…
Opening with one of the most well-known lines in English literature, the tale of the whale comes through the eyes of one of the crew of the Pequod, a whaler that has sailed from Nantucket under the command of Captain Ahab. Ishmael has joined the crew in search of adventure along with “savage”, Queequeg who he has bonded with while waiting for a passage. Once on the boat the two friends discover that Ahab has lost his leg at the hands (fins) of a particular sperm whale known as Moby Dick and that he is hell bent on revenge. As the voyage continues the Pequod crosses paths with several other boats, some whales come to a sticky end and Ishmael realises that Ahab will stop at nothing to track and kill Moby Dick even if that leads to the destruction of the boat and all it’s crew.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Moby Dick but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be 40% biology textbook, 40% whaling/sailing manual and 10% of Ishmael’s somewhat random stories. That’s not to say it’s bad but it is very dense and with extremely limited knowledge of any kind of sea venturing (I don’t think a week of island hopping around Croatia counts) I often found myself somewhat lost. I do now know more about whales that I could ever imagine possible and I did find it very interesting that Ishmael is absolutely focused on killing whales for profit while simultaneously being fascinated by them and to some extent revering them. I also didn’t think there was going to be so much homoeroticism in the beginning or that it would disappear so suddenly.
Despite not being a critical success at the time Moby Dick went onto become one of the Great American novels with readers fascinated by its genre-bending exploration of everything from class structures to mental health issues, religion and the concept of good and evil. All of which I felt like I was really getting into at some points beccause some of the prose is so beautiful but at other points felt utterly overwhelmed by because there was just so very much of it with so many digressions and diversions.
Anyway it hasn’t been one of my favourite classics and I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you’re really into the ocean, or whales or extremely dense prose but I’m glad I read it.