If ever a person wished to learn about whaling in the 19th century, this would be their bible.
Herman Melville is a truly great writer, one of the best I have ever read, if not the best; but his writing style calls for direct attention from the reader. One cannot read this book while feeling drowsy or distracted (which I often am, as I read late into the night). And so, I slowly plodded through the tome, ten pages at a time. I am still proud of the perseverance I showed in finishing such a difficult and long-winded novel.
Was it worth it, though, I hear you ask? Yes. Definitely.
Starting with that ever-famous line: 'Call me Ishmael', we are swept up with the story of the Pequod, its crew, and the great leviathan. And, just when the going gets good, we are dumped into what seems like an encyclopaedia of whaling! Here, Melville reflects the general 19th century attitude, by entering into an anthology of classifications and strictly rational descriptions. You can find yourself adrift in passage after passage about the zoology, anatomy and even the painting of whales.
Why would I want to slog through all that, I hear you cry?
Well, I found the story was actually enhanced by this technique of bookending the plot on either side of encyclopaedic entries, for, as Ishmael himself states: " To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme." Through the sea of information, Melville builds the book into a true epic.
I also greatly enjoyed Melville's incredible writing style. Nowhere else have I come across an author that managed to write a sentence the length of a page, yet still have it make complete sense, and hold its poetical beauty. As I read the novel, I began to notice a great improvement in my own writing, and I count it as no coincidence that during this time, I wrote one of my greatest essays.
Several passages in the story struck me as particularly beautiful, and these are just a few of them...
And although I wouldn't want to ruin the ending for those of you who set out to read it, I must say that the story is brought to an earth-shuddering conclusion, one which will leave your mind wandering over the book for hours. I think this book managed to change me in some way, and, like all good stories do, it became a part of who I am.
Just a small disclaimer: Melville is very much of the 19th century, and in no way do I promote his ideas about people of various races, about whaling and about whales themselves.