Book : Moby Dick by Herman Melville

, in Books

I got the Moby Dick ebook from Project Gutenberg, which unfortunately did not include awesome illustrations such as this one.
Since moving to the USA I have been attempting to understand the place a little better by reading its literature. I have finally got around to reading the great edifice of Moby Dick, which didn’t really help clear things up.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading it but it is a very perplexing book of many parts. It begins in that leisurely way of 19th century novels with several chapters detailing the narrator’s station and outlook on life. Ishmael makes for a charming and witty protagonist, or he would if the plot doesn’t completely ignore him after the first section.

The plot has been ripped-off and parodied so often that there are few surprises. Characters give long speeches about very little, and about half the word count is devoted to essays on whaling methods, history, and how other books about whales are rubbish. Actual happenstance is squeezed into short action-packed sequences.

Despite this, I found myself really getting into the deliberately baroque writing and meandering structure of Moby Dick. The little details of shipboard life, the bitching about other books, the vivid cast of doomed characters, I loved it all. Maybe I could have used fewer passages on whale biology but even those have a certain ridiculous charm.

Much has been written about the obvious symbolism that drips off the page although no one can agree on exactly what it all so obviously means. Hilariously, Moby Dick itself makes fun of allegory - personally I think Melville was deliberately tweaking the nose of anyone who tried to read deliberate meaning behind his words.

My feeling is that almost all literary analysis cannot help but say more about the analyzer than the original work. I have my own theory and any attempt to deconstruct or critique it will reveal more about you than about me.

Moby Dick is about a whale.