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on 6 June 2016
An extraordinary novel. I am sure I could not have read it through as a young man. This is a laborious read. There is a mixture of anatomy, physiology, poetry, philosophy and - of course - adventure. Melville even throws in comments on species preservation by discussing whether the whale will be hunted to near extinction as had happened with the American buffalo. Sometimes it is hard to realize that this book was written 150 years ago, but the style of writing is clearly from a bygone age. We are not familiar or comfortable with the rather turgid and over- detailed prose. References to ancient Roman and Greek literature and multiple references to the Christian bible are hard to relate to in the middle of the 21st century. Against this rather dense backdrop, the book does contrive to tell a nautical tale of drama, terror and ultimate disaster. The final three days of the hunt for Moby Dick make for compelling reading, but these are the pages I will remember while much of the earlier complexity will be forgotten. It is rather odd that the first mate should have the name of Starbuck , a name with which the whole world is now familiar while Captain Ahab is remembered by relatively few. The bloody encounter between man and whale is vividly depicted and in the present era of conservation and preservation, makes for rather gruesome reading.
I was left not knowing whether to admire the whalers or despise them.
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on 28 June 2015
I'm glad I read it from the perspective of being able to discuss it as one of the classics but it's a very difficult book to read from at least two points of view. Firstly, if you're an animal lover you'll find the detailed, highly gory, descriptions of the slaughter of whales, of which there are many accounts, unpalatable (to say the least). Secondly, there are very long and tedious accounts of whale study that will bore you to tears unless you're the most pedantic whale fanatic alive. This book apparently describes every species of whale known to man in the most horribly exacting manner, right down to such minutiae as what is found inside the sperm whales skull, what this smells like, and how it feels to squeeze it in your fingers. Only after you've ploughed relentlessly through all this do you finally get to the 'exciting' (if you can stomach hunting) pursuit of the eponymous white whale. This part of the book is in the style of your typical adventure yarn, entertaining and fast-paced. There are some fabulous moments that have been referenced in popular culture such as Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. The mighty antagonist, Moby Dick, is truly a beast of mythic qualities, enormous, ancient, intelligent. This gives Captain Ahab's obsessive pursuit a metaphorical dimension that contributes to its status as a classic. Certainly the detailed accounts not only of whales but of whaling are also integral to this as a significant work to history and natural history. The first third of the book is surprisingly comical which, perhaps, serves as a nice counter to the darker realities of the harsh and dangerous life of the whaler.
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on 27 November 2017
The actual content is great, but this was my second book, as the first arrived with the cloth binding heavily damaged. This one is also damaged, but not as badly as the first. I'm giving up at this point, as I got the book for close to £10 (£18.99 RRP) and it's clear that Amazon cannot store and ship fine literature without destroying it in the process. I would recommend this copy over the paperback, as it's nicer to handle and has extra material at the back such as drawings and diagrams to aid understanding of whaling at the time, which enhances the story a good deal (if you know nothing of whaling - I didn't, so found it very helpful). But don't expect a nice pristine copy of the book, Amazon will see to it that it arrives "pre-worn". Also, there's a sticker on the back which, when peeled off (very gently I might add) leaves a horrible stain on the fabric and removed the illustrations on the cover with it. Pretty stupid move by Penguin here. Surely it would have been better to stick these inside the cover, where there's nothing for the glue to damage??
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on 9 May 2018
Moby Dick is not a novel.

If, like me, you assumed that it is, you may, like me, have a problem.

In a novel you would expect to find, for example: a narrative of events, development of characters, and some clarity in the writing. Moby Dick does have something of each of these, but it is overloaded by so much more. It digresses into accounts of whales, ships, weather, quasi philosophical discourse - and not be prolix myself, much else. The first third, and the last third are narrative, and the middle third is a digression about whales. If it were sent to a publisher today it might well be rejected, or if accepted the middle third would be heavily edited.

Yet in a way this is unfair. It is surely sui generis. It is what it is, and nothing else, and surely there is nothing else like it. Reading it is an experience unlike anything else I have read. I did read it some time ago,and while I have not yet completed re-reading it, and have been tempted to abandon it, I will continue to the end.

Because it is so unusual it is not easy to review; a reader of a review will expect to find some description, and analysis, but there are conventions about how this should be done. Moby Dick is so idiosyncratic, that like the book itself, it requires a different way of reviewing it. This review will fail because it will be succinct. A conventional review, which I was tempted to write, would probably be critical, with its verbosity as a starting point. And yet by its being so different from anything else it is worth the hard work and the stamina of of reading. To read it is an experience unlike anything else.
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on 16 December 2014
I tried, I really did. I got to chapter 12 and they were only just getting on the bloody boat. You need the patience of a saint to stick with this and read it properly. For example, one passage relaying a church sermon went on for about 10 pages - basically meaning you were taken through the whole sermon in real time. I gave up quarter way through and read the synopsis on Wikipedia instead. Turns out it's a good story...

On the plus side, what I did read was very different from the norm, with hyper-detailed descriptions of everything and a dark, moody air about it. Given it can be downloaded for free it's worth a go, but I doubt I am the first person to fail getting to the end.
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on 11 September 2014
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

In 1842, a young man would abandon the whaling ship he was working on to live among reputed cannibals and pursue love affairs with local girls. He would recount these events in bestselling books when he returned home, before destroying his career with a book that received almost universally scathing reviews: Moby-Dick, now listed among the Great American Novels, even called the best book ever written.

At its best, Moby-Dick is excellent: it’s moving, it’s insightful, and it very much captures the sense of the sacred, the spiritual relationship of crew to whale or man to obsession. It can also be fascinating in its detail: entire chapters are devoted to the anatomy of the whale, the symbolism of the colour white, or the role of the whale in art and history. Phrases like “Call me Ishmael” are some of the best known of any book, even among people who haven’t read the original source: it is but one of many unforgettable phrases. Though broadly pro-whaling, it also even has some sympathy with the whales, confronting the fact that the activity necessarily involves tormenting the animals.

For all that, let me confess I found it a little boring, philistine as that may make me. I’m not one to quail at historical detail given my passion for history, and those parts I enjoyed, but particularly the first half I found slow, long descriptive sections filling space between more interesting parts. The book has some great sections and some great lines, but I wouldn’t have minded were it considerably shorter. Still, as a reflection on the personality of man and the necessities of the energy industry, it has much to tell us today: the oil we burn, though not literally in lamps and candles, can still cost blood.
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on 26 January 2015
I suspect that a great many people are familiar with the general story of Moby Dick, but a lot fewer have read the book. That’s not surprising – it’s a substantial tome of some 550 pages and at times I questioned whether I had the staying power to make it through to the end. In style, it is a curious mixture, combining narrative, drama and technical discourses on a range of topics (including the design of whaling ships, the history of whaling, the manner in which a slaughtered whale is cut up etc). However, it is the narrative parts which are the best – in particular the opening and closing chapters. It’s an extraordinary book, and as a tale of obsession and monomania, it has few equals.
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on 13 January 2014
The famous story of Ahab and his obsessive search for the White Whale forms a thread which holds this strange novel together. I believe that there was a fashion for novels to contain discursions on life and morals that reached its height in 1850's America: very different from today's "show don't tell" style.
This book is beautifully written but contains sermons, long chapters on the classification of whales (now completely outdated but I believe pioneering in its day), a guide to harpooning a whale, collecting the corpse and butchering it, and a most peculiar digression on the superiority of all things white, though the non-white humans in the book are praised for their nobility of character.
Parts of it are fascinating. I found the passages describing what it is like to hunt whales in the open ocean with a hand held harpoon from rowing boats rivetting, though unpleasant in their gory detail. At times Ahab's brooding obsession takes on a mythical quality, and the way in which the crew, though well aware of that no good can come of his quest for revenge against a dumb animal, are swept along by it is an alarmingly believable account of the way in which groups of people can go wrong. It put me vaguely in mind of Hitler's rise to power.
I have been unable to finish the book: every time it seems to get going it bogs down in another digression. However, if you are interested this Kindle copy is well laid out.
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on 5 May 2018
This is a book I have meant to read for a long time, having had a copy for many years which used to belonged to my grandfather, but never quite got round to reading.

The style of writing and the language used is so archaic, which since it was written around 150 years ago is not surprising, makes most of the book a struggle both to read and to understand, it also doesn’t help that the author isn’t just telling a story but is also trying to educate the reader in the religious mythology of the whale and the scientific classification and anatomy of it also, which make the first half of the book very ponderous.
Having said all that, I am glad I finally read it.
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on 31 July 2017
Inexplicably, extraordinarily great novel. Despite its ramblings and its long seeming irrelevances and detours, you have to read it slowly, and thoroughly, at its own pace, in order to have your life somehow changed by it. Don't buy edited versions, and don't give up!
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