Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thar She Blows!

"Call me Ishmael" is the very recognisable opening sentence in this American classic novel 'Moby Dick' or 'The White Whale'. Written in the mid 19th century, this is a ponderous read, but it has its merits. I started reading this book as a kid but grew faint of heart and gave up near the beginning. This time I endured.
To describe this book in a sentence would be to say that it is a documentary on the whaling industry in the 1850's with a little story thrown in between the difficult, but educational parts.
There are very long asides, monologues, poetic metaphors, and philosophical ramblings on everything from classism to the existence of God. The reader will endure these rants just so as to not miss the next little sequel in the story, which is about Captain Ahab of the whaling ship Pequod who is monomaniacal about killing Moby Dick, an extremely large and cunning Sperm Whale with whom he has done battle before. After losing a leg, he becomes obsessed on revenge, even if it kills him.
Learning about the whaling industry and life on a whaling ship is quite interesting. It is surprising how much was known about whales, and how dangerous it was hunting them. We learn, in detail, how to extract the oil and the spermacetti from the whale, and we learn more than you can imagine about the anatomy of both Sperm and Right Whales.
If you read late into the night, you will awake speaking King James English as did the Quaker crew members in the story. If you pay attention and make note of the author's command of the language and his immense vocabulary, you will improve your own. And if you read too much of this story in one day, you will be battling whales in your dreams, as I did.
What is interesting is the vast amount of verbiage used to pursue obscure subjects along the way. For example, while describing the whale's anatomy, and Moby Dick's in particular, the author goes off on a very long tangent talking about the significance of the colour white in mythology, the Bible, and history. Did we really need this? Or do we need to read for twenty pages why the whale does not have a nose? It makes one think that a condensed version of this story would be more palatable.
It is not an easy book to read, but is somewhat rewarding to those who endure to the end. I know a lot about whaling now, but what good that will do me, time will tell. I almost gave up a few times, but am now very satisfied that I did not. But, you see, now this business of being long-winded, as is Herman Melville, the author, has somehow acquired itself to me and I am rambling. Enough.
3 stars for this classic

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