I didn’t do the American Lit module as part of my English degree, but everyone who did *hated* Moby Dick. And I’d already nailed my colours firmly to the medievalist mast so it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d have a need to read.
Over the years I’ve come across a lot of reasons why one should read it, and obtained a free copy some time ago. Recently it was the subject of an In Our Time programme on Radio 4, so I decided it was time.
I enjoyed the hell out of the first third (that is approximately how long it takes the Pequod to set sail). I’m the kind of nerd who likes to learn about different ways of life, and 19th century whaling is a lot more alien than you might think. I loved the prose and found it a lot easier to read than I expected.
Most modern reviewers hate the cataloguing of the different kinds of whales, but I got on OK with that part – finding out what 19th century people thought about biology was cool.
The meetings with other ships at sea were all surreal and odd and I think I was missing some references in there. One thing about coming to this book later in life is that I picked up on a lot more of the references than a younger me would have. Conversely, I also now understand where a lot of the cultural references to Moby Dick fit in.
Most of the media I have consumed that tries to convince you to read Moby Dick emphasises that it’s a story about obsession. While Ahab is obviously obsessed, he’s such a shadowy figure and hardly ever in the story that I didn’t get that impression – apart from the one incident that nearly causes a mutiny, in which Ahab backs down, it doesn’t have that much bearing on the story. The actual battle with Moby Dick is surprisingly short.
It did drag towards the end, but I’m glad I’ve read it and that I enjoyed most of it.
I couldn’t help but thinking it needs a HP Lovecraft crossover though. It’s such an obvious thing that I can’t believe it wasn’t done during the Pride & Prejudice and Zombies era.