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Too nautical for me
on 19 August 2007
The prose is so vivid that the only comparison that comes to mind is Shakespeare. Some sentences or paragraphs are so finely wrought as to hit you between the eyes, and as such I can say that I am glad I have read it, and if life were longer I might even read it again. However, I have to concede that the book is very hard work. What story there is all takes place in the last 25 pages and is an action tour-de-force, but the previous 400 or so pages are lengthy and wordy digressions on whales, whaling and all conceivable ancillary topics, which at their worst are maddeningly garrulous. The characterisation is poor, unsurprisingly given that so little of the text is devoted to the players. Ishmael, the narrator is virtually a disembodied observer who brings little of himself to the action. Ahab is the tortured megalomaniac for whom we are given no opportunity for sympathy or empathy. All the other human characters, namely the ship's crew, are mere automata. Those of a nautical bent might get excited about the details of the ship, the Pequod, which is more lovingly written than the humans or the whales, but I'm not that way inclined.
I can see this book being truly relished by hardcore literature buffs with a love of ships and the sea, but I can't help but feel that just about anyone else would find it very heavy going.