Book Review: Moby Dick (Melville)


Have I read this before: Yes! I remember reading this in 10th grade    


Review: This is another one of those “everyone considers it a classic” classics and is one that, I think, gets an unworthy amount of hate. I suspect a good amount of that comes from people being forced to read it in school, which really seems to kill a lot of peoples’ enjoyment of some really good books.

And this is a good book. I may be biased because I love books about sailing/ships/the sea, though. Yes, it is very tedious in places, but I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone says it is*. It’s got this weird mix of technical discussions mixed with infuriatingly beautiful prose that you would not expect to find in a book that’s basically an encyclopedic guide to whaling. Like, every 7th chapter is this beautiful philosophical reflection on some grand theme and then the chapters between are all, “here’s a detailed, graphic description of how you decapitate a sperm whale.” That contrast throws you around a lot as a reader. I kinda dig it.


Favorite part: There are a few phrases that stood out to me as examples of that “philosophical reflection” and/or beautiful prose I mentioned above. Like this one:

“Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up – flaked up, with rose-water snow.”

“Consider once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began. Consider all this; and then turn to this green gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, though canst never return!”

[Here’s Starbuck talking to Ahab, warning him that it will be his obsession with the While Whale that will doom him as opposed to anything else.]
“Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; though wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”

[And here’s Ahab, several chapters later, talking about how his pursuit of the whale is basically pre-determined and that he is not the one in control of his obsession.]
“Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”


Rating: 7/10


*Though that might just be coming from the fact that my previous book was The Last of the Mohicans, and Cooper’s writing style is much more tedious than Melville’s in my opinion, even if the topics in The Last of the Mohicans weren’t as…generously described as they are in Moby Dick.

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