‘Have they seen the whale yet?’
So this post needs a big SPOILER ALERT! I have something I’d like to complain about and if you’re planning on reading Moby Dick any time soon (which you should, by the way) you might like to stop right here.
I’ve warned you, right? Now I can go on.
Once again, like almost every book in this 100 book challenge, Moby Dick came with expectations. I expected that there would be a whale, and a man in a boat would try to catch the whale.
Now, the book is 634 pages long. So how many of those pages would you expect to star the whale? Or even the whaling boat for that matter? To give a bit of a clue, Ishmael, the main character telling the story, sets sail on the boat at page… 107. It seriously takes 107 pages to just get the boat moving.
The book then continues on for another significant chunk of writing – over 150 pages to be exact – before they lower the boats for their first whale chase. Is it the white whale, Moby Dick? Because that would be worth the 250+ page wait, right?
No, we’re not that lucky.
Here’s the biggest spoiler of all (I warned you): Moby Dick, white whale himself, the image that everyone thinks of when you say Moby Dick… first appears on page 600, with the main action happening just 2 pages before the very end of the book.
So what is the rest of the book about? And is it any good? The rest of the book is thankfully a great read. Melville goes into incredible detail about 19th century whaling, from the shape of the head of a harpoon, to how a rope in a row-boat is coiled, to the teeth formations of different whale species. He dedicates a whole chapter to the curve of a whale’s tail. And another chapter solely for the severing of the head. As I was reading Moby Dick, I often felt I was reading a piece of non-fiction, with a bit of a fictional tale thrown in just for fun.
Did Melville want to write a book of non-fiction, but knew it just wouldn’t sell? I know I definitely wouldn’t have picked up a book called ’19th Century Whaling: in great detail over 600+ pages and no pictures’… but I did pick up this one.
In July 2014 I set myself the challenge to finish 100 must-read books before I die. For my ongoing tally click here.Follow @jessieansons