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Book Reviews 27.024000,27.024000

Published on November 20th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley


Moby Dick – Herman Melville

There’s many a young person who has heard of Moby Dick, but very few know of the author, Herman Melville, and fewer still have gone on to read the classic published in 1851, now considered one of the Great American Novels.

“Considering how sociably we had been sleeping together the night previous, and especially considering the affectionate arm I had thrown over me upon waking”

The novel is an account of a sailor’s first trip on board a whaling ship, along with his newly found friend Queequeg, a polynesian who is an experienced Harpooneer, as one can expect, racial epithets are frequently used to describe characters and in reference, however, the novel is intriguing in that the friendship between the two is shown to be very close and respectful, verging on the homo-erotic. Honestly, there really is a lot of insinuative language throughout the first segment when establishing their relationship, and some suspect situations in which the author, Ishmael allows himself.

As the novel chiefly concerns a whaling ship’s attempt to slay a ferocious Sperm Whale, the contentious issue of the ethics of whaling are a modern dilemma that was little considered during its publication. This is rather apt as recently there has been a large controversy concerning the destruction of rare and majestic animals in the news much like the plot of Moby Dick. The author is rather condemning of whaling detractors, evidenced in his frequent and dull rambles on the importance, relevance and prestige of whaling – by speaking of the beauty and majesty of whales. Yeah.

“I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him.”
“I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world.”

Melville was inspired by several real life events,  such as the sinking/destruction of the whaling ship ‘Essex’, I mention this because of this rather interesting article and also because I reside in Essex, which I think is pretty darned interesting and a good change from horrendous ‘Essex girl’ stereotypes perpetuated by reality television.

The majority of the novel is rather sleep-inducing despite the interesting literary techniques used in attempt to spice up the tedium. Most of the content concerns overly factual information, mainly not interesting either, about whales, sailing, whaling and random diatribes consisting of ill-informed opinions and other such waffle. The facts are often either outdated by scientific discovery, such as his constant reference and outright claims of the whale being a fish, or baseless suppositions, such as St. George having actually fought a whale instead of a dragon and his steed was not a horse but in fact either a seal or a seahorse.

“He pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said henceforth we were married.”

There are some notable use of theatrical language and style, sometimes and entire chapter will be written as in a play, detailing people’s actions separately to the dialogue spoken, unfortunately this acts as a dampener to the pace while also making the novel rather confusing at times, with realtime switches to reflective dialogue, bouncing back n’ forth so much that you don’t know who’s talking anymore. The atmosphere of a theatre production is pervading throughout with characters often having asides, much like soliloquies in plays and there is a lot of paranoia and moodiness with the crew.

It takes ages before anything interesting like a whale being killed happens, and when it does, the writing slackens, making the action confusing and the setup of events hard to maintain while reading. It takes about 90% of the book before Moby Dick appears, despite him being talked about throughout, also there is no characterisation of the whale,  he is merely just described as being aggressive and that’s about it.

“Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair.”

I am having real trouble thinking about what there is to say, the writing style and some of the imagery is amazing, however

there is a distinct lack of symbolism despite the religious themes and the few references that are directly made with regards to Jonah and the Whale. It just feels like little thought went into the background of the novel outside of gushing about the profession.

I did enjoy the book, but it’s just rather frustrating and considering the length it’s probably just not worth it. I’ve little more to say so have some more homo-erotic quotes and an artist’s (me) impression of Melville’s version of the legend of St. George and the Dragon.

George and the Whale dragon

“Which dragon I maintain to be a whale”
“The animal ridden by St. George might have only been a large seal, or sea-horse”

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