Moby Dick- this is a chronicle of our love hate relationship. Yes, I first met you during my years at university, and yes somehow I managed to get an ‘A ‘ grade without having properly read you. Yes, I feel bad about this. So, last week I decided to give my many hardbacks a break to attempt to rekindle our rocky relationship. I hope you forgive me for this.
I can’t deny that Moby Dick is great for analysis. The themes touched upon such as the desperation of humanity, of unadulterated revenge, of survival, of kinship, the juxtaposition between light and darkness & good and evil through the representation of the ‘whale’ and the fierce and seaworthy captain Ahab mourning over the loss of his leg. There are so many things you can discuss – making it no doubt one of the enduring pieces of English literature. (Thank you online resources for getting me through this period)
So, why am I finding it so difficult to read?? I endured, I persevered, I rarely gave up, it’s chapter 32 and that’s it- I’m gone. There is humour, there’s great character portrayal of the narrator Ishmael’s anxiety over his meeting with his ‘soon to be’ close brother and companion Queequeg. Even then, it shows the bonds and true friendship that transcends race, situation & religion. The characters know the fragility of life; “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.” There are quotes that are absolutely memorable and really help to set the scene;
- “For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”
- “It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
- “Then, there you lie like the one warm spark of an artic crystal”.
- “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.”
That last one is something to think about!
The novel is heavy with words. I would be lying if I said I understood it all, and I have read a fair few literature books in my time. Some chapters tended towards philosophical/religious references to biblical characters & heavy with analogies (even Ishmael, Ahab- many names are carefully chosen for the purpose of contrasting their biblical counterparts) not to mention defined textbook jargon of the anatomy of whales/and the whaling industry. Like many 19th Century literature it undoubtedly takes time and perseverance on the reader’s part to sift through outdated terminology and phrases, yet all I can say, is that the more you read, the quicker- and easier it gets.
There may be a time, perhaps when I am stranded with nothing but ‘Moby Dick’ as reading material I may endeavor to try and renew my complicated relationship with it. Perhaps I may even reach chapter 60. But for now, I will close your lovely turquoise leaves (the drop cap covers are truly stunning- stunningly bright) and replace you on the bookshelf, just like Matilda at the end of the movie…until next time, friend or foe.
Would I recommend this to others? Probably. Am I crazy? For sure. Because it’s still a great book, and like genres of movies you reach for at HMV, choosing a suitable novel for you is exactly the same thing.
Good luck 🙂