The last time I was here writing about a book I had probably just finished something that ranks as one of my favourite books of all time. I then had a month for NaNoWriMo where I decided not to read anything so I wouldn’t find myself too influenced. For some reason after this I decided to pick up Moby Dick because I found myself on the Wikipedia page about beluga whales and thought it was some kind of sign.
Two months later, and a nearly broken Kindle from having dropped it three times after falling asleep, I finished Moby Dick. It was a real slog of a book to get through and I am glad to say that I have read it because it is one of THE books and it has over 100 chapters. The thing is, that I don’t know if it was worth all the time that it took me to plough on through it.
It started off well enough. I found the central character Ishmail interesting as well as the relationship that he forged with Queequeg. In places their relationship seemed almost… gay. I mean if you read the passages where they quickly become very close it reads like they were almost falling in love. The whole section before they got onto the whaling ship was really interesting since it felt more grounded in the world and Melville’s asides (of which I swear more than half the book is) all felt organic and, more importantly, absorbing.
The moment that we get onto the Pequod it begins to get a bit tedious. Sure, the parade of characters are compelling and the sheer obsession that Captain Ahab has regarding the titular white whale is haunting, but Melville just will not let the book unfold. We all know that an author will conduct research before taking on a novel. It’s a given. However, the trick is to weave this throughout the book without drawing attention to it and Melville does not do this. In fact, there are hundreds of pages where he is just vomiting information onto the page. Some of this is interesting, such as how whales would be skinned, the values of different whale products and the various superstitions surrounding whalers. On the other side of this chapter after chapter after chapter gets spent detailing various pieces of shipping apparatus. The balance of information and story feels very one-sided at times, especially in the third quarter of the book.
A pity… since it started off so well.