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A novel by Herman Melville

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Awesome story of man vs. nature. Guess who wins?

  • Jun 16, 2010

I don't really care whether or not something counts as literature. Whatever the merits of reading a work, nothing seems to take the fun out of it like being told how seriously to take it. I'm not interested in a work's importance but its power, so I approached Moby Dick not as "The Great American Novel" (whatever that means) but as a story of a madman chasing a monster across the vast abyss of the open ocean. (Before Jaws, before Cthulhu, there was Dick!)

And it's a brilliant work, monstrous as its namesake, though not, as some would have it, requiring the tenacity of an Ahab to get through. This is the kind of novel you want to read once to let it overwhelm you with its shear, insane beauty; then return to and enjoy its complex pleasures.

So, what's so great about this novel that you've probably heard such horrors about? It starts off brilliantly with our narrator's strange wanderings in New England, full of incident and his own wry observations. The narrator disappears somewhat when he joins the Pequod, which can be a bit of a let down, until one realizes that he is yielding the stage to some fascinating characters.

Everyone knows about Ahab, of course, but Melville's skill is such that even after 150 years of cultural references, including parody (Dickie Moe!), his thirst for vengeance still captivates the reader. There's a certain deliciousness to his monologues as in the classic Shakespeare villains, yet he is not a wholly unsympathetic figure. His struggle with Starbuck, who is too sane and conventional to go freely on an insane quest, makes for some genuine drama. (Although it's result is a foregone conclusion.)

And while the plot may seem like it takes too long to unwind, digressing into the history, culture, and science of whaling at frequent intervals, the cumulative force it generates is surprising. Melville isn't just filling up space; he's foreshadowing, building on the theme, so when the end comes it feels as of the force of a runaway train with too much momentum to slow down before its doom.

So, score one for the English lit crowd. It's a brilliant novel and well worth the effort of reading.

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August 26, 2010
Not only that, it's funny! There's a least one good joke in every chapter - well, maybe not every chapter, but some real laugh out loud carrying's on aboard that whaler.  And the first chapters have some real knee slapping moments.  All the bits in the Inn with Queequeg
July 09, 2010
Bravo ... let's not let any pompous literary snobs tell us how to enjoy a book or how it should be "interpreted". Balderdash ... read it, let it do its own talking and enjoy it for itself. I've never read MOBY DICK but, having embarked on a personal crusade to notch my reading belt with more classics, I'll be adding it to my short list. Thanks for a fine review.
June 29, 2010
I'm ashamed to say I've only read parts of "Moby Dick." I really need to read this one in its entirety someday.
June 26, 2010
Great review, Carlos! I like the way you approached this book. I try to do that, too. Otherwise, I might get disappointed due to the hype. I'll have to check this one out!
June 21, 2010
Awesome review and very well written! I might have to dust this one off and give it a re-read. Thanks for sharing!
More Moby-Dick reviews
review by . June 28, 2010
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick or The Whale is like a treasure hiding in plain sight from modern readers who are too intimidated by its artistic and physical magnitude to venture in and discover its awe-inspiring imaginativeness.  I doubt there has ever been a fictional world more complete than Melville’s massive world of whaling.               The immensity of Moby-Dick is part of its charm and Melville’s brilliance.  …
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
Want to read the Bible, read the Bible. Want to read about whaling trips ... um ... why would you want to do that?
Quick Tip by . August 26, 2010
It's epic, it's grand; and it's thematic import of good and evil are etched indelibly, but it's overlong to be sure.
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
I am about a third of the way through after having avoided this novel for awhile. I never realized how amusing Melville could be until I delved into his character descriptions.
Quick Tip by . July 08, 2010
Hard to believe the writer of this American classic died unheralded.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
I think Melville is pretty awesome, and Ahab is an intriguing figure, and there are lots of interesting things in this book. But there's too much about whaling for my tastes.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Good read
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Epic story, but can be a bit slow at times.
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
who hasnt read this?!
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
Sea adventures make me sea sick.
About the reviewer
Carlos Ernesto McReynolds ()
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Member Since: May 9, 2010
Last Login: Aug 31, 2010 09:21 PM UTC
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Moby-Dick, also known as The Whale, is a novel first published in 1851 by American author Herman Melville. Moby-Dick is often referred to as a Great American Novel and is considered one of the treasures of world literature. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship  Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg. Ahab intends to take revenge.

In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the main character's journey, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of gods are all examined as Ishmael speculates upon his personal beliefs and his place in the universe. The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices such as stage directions, extended soliloquies and asides.

Often classified as American Romanticism, Moby-Dick was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851 in an expurgated three-volume edition titled The Whale, and weeks later as a single volume, by New York City publisher Harper and Brothers as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale on November 14, 1851. Although the book initially received ...
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ISBN-10: 0553213113
ISBN-13: 978-0553213119
Author: Herman Melville
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Bantam Classics
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1984 (British first edition)

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