Summer Vacation, Day 48: Melville

So I’m well off the pace now for reading 15 classics in 15 weeks. Ah, well. The Sun Also Rises is next. Far shorter, and the sentences should require less untangling. But first – here at long last – 3 Things to Love about Moby Dick:

  1. Call Me Ishmael. Seriously – a romantic lubber like me, who becomes enamored with the odd details and intricate histories (useful or not) of whatever he is engaged in (useful or not), whose imagination runs away with him even as a grown man, who loves to share what he knows and run long in the telling, and who finds a somewhat sad but universal humor in the strange spinning of the world, has found a kindred spirit in this narrator.
  2. All Hands On Deck! Ishmael is surrounded with characters colorful, sorrowful, raging, noble and tragic – Stubb, Pip, Queequeg, Starbuck, Flask, and even Ahab. Each one spoke to me in a different way. There were no extras to speak off, or rather, no named extras …
  3. Above All, Wit. This I did not expect, given the general groaning I’ve heard thus far about the book. There is wit and humor throughout, but take a moment to (re)read the scene in which Ishmael lies silent in unwitting Queequeg’s bunk, too frightened and entranced to say hello … and the scene in the morning, in Queequeg’s embrace. How many movies and TV shows have used this? And I laughed harder here, because I wasn’t expecting funny!

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I loved it. I’d also note that again, the author toys with the reader, all but giving away the ending. You know it ends badly – he tells you throughout – but he makes you wait. Keep in mind that Melville’s contemporaries couldn’t google “sperm whale” and get a fair rendering and specs. All the whaling history and detail the reader wades through enables a quick three concluding chapters in which the White Whale comes in a rush, and no excess explanation is necessary. The end is all froth and fury, as it should be.

One thought on “Summer Vacation, Day 48: Melville

  1. I agree with everything you said, except the part about loving it. I was surprised by the funny, engaged by the characters, captured by the excitement. But I am not a minutia lover by nature so even though I understood why the fifty pages on the treatment of sperm whale brains were there, I just can't say I liked them.

    Congratulations on finishing!


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