I am so surprised that I actually got through chapters 27-93. I was so excited to be reading Moby Dick, because I was actually enjoying it. I’d only heard about how boring the novel was, but I found the first 26 chapters to be engrossing and, actually, hilarious. Then chapters 27-55 happened.
I missed last week because I just couldn’t catch up. I had my book club meeting, which meant a lot of time I usually would have spent reading Moby Dick was spent reading How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I finally caught up this week, though. Those hour-long subway rides are good for something. Mainly making yourself read something that makes you want to fall asleep. Not that I haven’t fallen asleep on the subway before, but still.
That’s not to say that all of those chapters were dull, because they weren’t. I enjoyed some parts and still did quite a bit of highlighting and laughed a few times, but for the most part, Moby Dick lost a lot of its charms for me. There was so much information dumping and so little character development, it was difficult to keep my attention for long stretches of time.
Like I said, though, there were a lot of things I did like. The descriptions of whaling were particularly interesting, especially since you’re taught from a very young age that whales are practically sacred. I loved Free Willy when I was a kid. Whales and dolphins and manatees are animals that you just want to save, so reading about how to kill them and how to take them apart bit by bit was unnerving. As boring as some of the discussions on whaling could be, I was also fascinated by them. Ishmael’s obsession with whales and whaling brings you out of the narrative completely. The story seems to have little meaning anymore; the only thing important is describing the whale as completely as possible before continuing with the actual plot. Every inch of the whale is discussed. Every known type of whale is detailed. Drawings of whales are described and critiqued. If not necessarily the most entertaining, the structure of Moby Dick is interesting. I can see why, as our hosts pointed out in their introductory post over at The Blue Bookshelf, Moby Dick has been described as the first modern novel. It really does incorporate many different styles and techniques.
At the same time, I desperately missed the Ishmael I had come to love, prone to long rants about religion, yes, but also focused on describing his surroundings and moving the story forward. Up until the last ten chapters of this big chunk, it felt like the plot was going no where. That’s a lot to read without really learning much about the characters or the story.
My favorite quote from this section actually comes from the very end of chapter 93:
“[...] and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”
There’s the Ishmael I missed from the first section! At this point, though, I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about what anything means. I have to get to the ending first. I have to see what happens.
And that’s all I really have to say about this section. I’m hoping that there’s a little bit more action in the last 150 pages and I hope I connect with Moby Dick more than I did in this middle section. I want to finish Moby Dick feeling accomplished, but also like I read a classic that I was surprised to find I really enjoyed.
To think! This time next week I’ll have finished Moby Dick. That’s awesome!