Sunday, December 11, 2011

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

A deranged man risks all to chase a demonic whale, interspersed with a leisurely history of the whaling industry.

The architecture of this book is majestic, and as I read, I palpably felt the majestic blocks being shifted into place. The Pequod, its own little world. The four teams of smaller boats. Starbuck, Stubb and Flask -- The religious first mate, the irreverent second mate, the materialistic third mate. The four heathen harpooners, yet more Christian in many ways than the Christians. The dark Quaker leader, Ahab. The unthinking white whale that can never be defeated. And our narrator, the scholarly Ishmael.

This novel is a compendium – a great plot, an encyclopedia, metaphysical musings, a la Hamlet, a play, songs, low comedy. It’s a catchall. Although the narrative wasn’t all that gripping, except in parts (and those parts were extremely gripping). I would describe the book as edifying, but edifying doesn’t make for eager easy reading. My goal was 100 pages a day and the daily last 40 were hard going. The final fifty pages of the book are magnificent. The thing is, I don’t really care to know about whales. But I do want to know about life and how it is experienced.  

Three things are going on in this book – an incredibly gripping chase story with cool imagery like harpoons forged in the blood of heathens, an academic exploration of all the things associated with the whaling industry, and a philosophical dialogue about what is the purpose of a man’s life, if any.

This was the fourth book in my project of Re-reading the Classics. The first three books were excellent, as well as a delight and a pleasure to read and I could not put them down. Moby Dick was different. I had to pay close attention as Moby Dick is about many things. However, all four books have in common GREAT characters, larger than life – characters who seem to exist outside the book. All of them have powerful motivations.

 I’m learning a lot.

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