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Herman Melville: Moby Dick

Finished! I think this book took me longer to read than any other, longer than any I have read for a long time anyway. I certainly enjoyed parts of it: Melville’s writing is enchanting, and if any book I’ve read deserves the description of prose-as-poetry, this does; some of the passages, especially early on, are exceptionally well-crafted. Unfortunately I’m too impatient to appreciate it’s length, given that the actual story moves at a pace rather slower than a lethargic tortoise; the lack of either story progression, or any real human interest, is not sufficiently covered up by the eloquent - and they are truly eloquent - descriptive touches. I cast my mind back to The Count of Monte Cristo, which I read some years ago, and which is by my recollection of a similarly exaggerated length; the latter has the reader in suspense from start to end. Furthermore, the grandiose descriptions of valour and heroics seem vastly out of kilter with the subject matter. Of course, it was both written and set in a time when man’s relationship to nature was very different from how it is now; but, fifty years after Blake could detest the effects of England’s ‘dark satanic mills’, a little more humility and a little less bombast regarding the destruction of whales for commercial gain would have been welcome.

Overall, I’m not sure whether or not to recommend this book; I’m tempted to say, read the first two chapters and then put it down! That way you’ll have a flavour of Melville’s writing, without drawing it out for too long, though by doing so you’ll miss out on much of the theatrical dialogue and allegorical soul-searching of later sections.

PS. It appears that the version I read was not quite exactly the same as either the American or British version; it’s amusing to note the items that were censored in the original British version (presumably, it seems, to avoid offending either British royalty or clergy).

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