Moby Dick: or, the White Whale by Herman Melville

“Call me Ishmael.”

Thus begins one of the most famous journeys in literature—the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod and its embattled, monomaniacal Captain Ahab. Ishmael quickly learns that the Pequod’s captain sails for revenge against the elusive Moby Dick, a sperm whale with a snow-white hump and mottled skin that destroyed Ahab’s former vessel and left him crippled. As the Pequod sails deeper through the nights and into the sea, the divisions between man and nature begin to blur — so do the lines between good and evil, as the fates of the ship’s crewmen become increasingly unclear....

Melville’s classic tale of obsession and the sea, one of the most important and enduring masterworks of nineteenth-century literature, Moby Dick is a riveting drama, exploring rage, hope, destiny, and the deepest questions of moral truth.


Wow, does this book have everything! Including the kitchen sink! I would call this novel a cross between an adventure story and a whaling handbook and encyclopedia. Melville tackles anything and everything related to whaling in this book - geography, history (both Biblical and Ancient), whaling traditions and folklore, types of whales (down to their minute details), anatomy of whales (specifically the Sperm and Right Whales), whale art, whale cuisine, whaling tools and tricks, the laws and etiquette of whaling, and lots more (there are over 100 chapters, after all!). 

Interspersed between these informative chapters is the story of Ishmael, an experienced merchant sailor, who decides to try his hand at whaling. He enlists on the ship, Pequod, unaware of its captain's ulterior agenda. The narrative is a mix between poetry and prose, and introduces us to some wild and unique characters. The narrative portion of this novel is definitely an adventure story with plenty of suspense, action, and conflict. 

Moby Dick remains a mixed bag for me. It is almost Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in nature, housing two unique and separate books within its covers. One part essentially focused on educating the reader on all things whale related (the informational side), and the second encompassing Ishmael's narrative (the narrative side). While I found some of the informational side interesting (namely how a whale was captured and what they did after capturing it) and relevant to the narrative side, a lot of it seemed superfluous to me. Why do I really need to read several chapters on depictions of whales in art, and how they are or are not accurate? What about whale cuisine? Is this a novel or food blog? At times I felt like I was reading a textbook, rather than a novel.

These tedious chapters amounted to nothing more than tangents (at least in my opinion) that often seemed to interrupt the narrative just as it was starting to gain momentum. This gave the narrative side of the novel a very stop-and-go, jerky flow. I really wasn't expecting the majority of the book to be made up of general whaling information. If you were to remove all but the chapters related to the narrative side, you wouldn't be left with much. I was also surprised that the White Whale, perhaps one of the most famous animal antagonists, doesn't appear "in person" until the very end of the novel. He is frequently alluded to throughout the novel, but doesn't actually become part of the action until the last few chapters. I find this interesting, especially since the novel is named for him. I just thought he would play a more integral role in the narrative. I also found the ending to be rather abrupt. All the build up throughout the novel, and the story was over in what felt like a blink of an eye.

Overall, I liked the book. I found some parts to be tedious and textbook-like, but enjoyed the action packed narrative side of the novel. I can appreciate why this book is considered a classic and I am excited to be able to cross it off my Classics To Read list. 

2015 Reading Challenge: A book with non-human characters   

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