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11 March 2010 @ 09:46 pm
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

Life as a FINALMEDFINALMED being what it is, this book took me two weeks to read. And that was two weeks ago. Leaving too long between finishing a book and 'reviewing' it - incidentally, I need to come up with a better term for what I do than 'sardonic inverted commas reviewing' - is never a good thing, as now I'm sitting here thinking, "Well. It was about whales."

Can I just say, it annoyed me that all sperm whales were treated as 'hes', but CALLED 'shes'?

Synopsis: Ishmael is a merchant sailor who signs aboard the whaling ship of a crazy one-legged captain for kicks. He does so in company with his instant BFF stroke heterosexual life mate Queequeg, who is a cannibal from a tropical island and heir to a tribal throne. Both of these attributes are treated as if they are equal in importance.

Queequeg gets most description in the book, mainly because Ishmael constantly slavers over his manly physique, so it behoves me to mention that I believe the man suffered from some form of impetigo. (Or possibly syphilis.) Interestingly, it's first Queequeg and then Captain Ahab who commandeer most of the storyline. Captain Ahab lost his leg to the titular whale after a failed attempt to catch and kill him. Ahab brims with resentment for this (completely OOC, for a whale) act, never considering that TRYING TO KILL IT MIGHT HAVE JUSTLY AROUSED ITS IRE.

There are short slices of action interspersed with long theoretical tracts covering everything from the kind of rope whaling ships used to an outline of 'cetology.' Don't get me wrong, these were interesting, but it had the same effect as if, during Titanic, there were constant flashbacks to the engineers in the drawing room excitedly describing how they designed the steam tanks. TAKES FROM THE ACTION A BIT, is what I'm saying. And in the end, everyone drowns! Which made me go like this: >:(

I said of Lord of the Flies that its stupidity could not have worked if it had been a group of girls. Here I have a similiar-ish fannish reaction: I want to write the SCRIPT. Change the end so Queequeg escapes from the whirlpool and they have a nice romantic 'lost at sea' interval where Ishmael confesses his deep forbidden love and Queequeg is all, "What's with the fuss? My people do it doggy style all the time." I would make sure all of the following quotes made it into the dialogue, especially the one about the sperm angels:

My own opinion is, that however this one-sided horn may really be used by the Narwhale - however that may be - it would certainly be very convenient to him for a folder in reading pamphlets.

His greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and everyone knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

For the most part, the English and American whale draughtsmen seem entirely content with presenting the mechanical outline of things, such as the vacant profile of the whale; which, as far as picturesqueness of effect is concerned, is about tantamount to sketching the profile of a pyramid.

The [Sperm Whale] is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words.

The white comprises part of his head, and the whole of his mouth, which makes him look as if he had just escaped from a felonious visit to a meal-bag.

A nose to the whale would have been impertinent. As on your physiognomical voyage you sail round your vast head in his jolly-boat, your noble conceptions of him are never insulted by the reflection that he has a nose to be pulled. A pestilent conceit, which so often will insist upon obtruding even when beholding the mightiest royal beadle on his throne.

In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.

There would also be a significant scene wherein Ishmael describes his theory of how St George fought a WHALE, and his sailor friends decide that being gay in the homophobic society of 1800s New England is the LEAST of his worries.

I'm not too impressed that Melville managed to be derogatory of females in a book ENTIRELY DEVOID OF FEMALE CHARACTERS, but there you go:

gentle thoughts of feminine air versus strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea

hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance


Also, his definition of 'savage' is pretty loose. And by loose, I mean unhinged.

as the Greek savage, Achilles [...] that fine old Dutch savage, Albert Durer.

I'd be interested in reading something else by him; something with a) more dialogue and b) less whales, because he really does have a gift for capturing the ridiculous and crazy in his characters. He can also come out with things like this:

"Omen? omen? - the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to man, they will honourably speak outright; not shake their heads, and give an old wives' darkling hint."

Still, I won't be tattooing the dimensions of a whale on myself any time soon.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov
I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
The School for Husbands, Moliere
On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Current Music: one day like this // elbow
Ebil Oberlady in the makingpervert_bitch on March 11th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I got the ho yay vibes from Ishmael and Queequeg the first time I read it... and I was 13 :P
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 11th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 12th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
... I meant vitiligo. I always mix those up. I'm going to say something that stupid in exams, too. Anyway, it was just me being facetious - I don't think people generally have patchwork skin, even in the islands.

He seriously couldn't have written them on purpose as lovers - right? Wasn't that a CRIME back then?

I often wondered while reading what he'd think of Free Willy. :D
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on March 12th, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
I'm with you: all those digressive passages drove me crazy! And despite my love for Ishmael/Queequeeg, I couldn't get past the midway point. Where was Melville's editor?

I don't know if you've heard, but there is a theory that Melville was at least bisexual. Supposedly there's evidence that he and and his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne may have had an affair.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 12th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
I assume Melville's editor thought he was having a GENIUS BREAKTHROUGH in cetology and that the whole world would join the party? idk.

Hawthorne of Scarlet Letter and Marble Faun fame? I like it! Can't you just imagine them smoking cigars in bed and discussing how to slip in illicit references for future generation to coo over?! :D
the claw-foot Ladysoftlyforgotten on March 12th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Still, I won't be tattooing the dimensions of a whale on myself any time soon.

every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 12th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
glorafinglorafin on March 12th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
You could try Bartleby.... It is slightly more dialogue-heavy and much shorter. A win-win, espacially since it stars a character that will stay with you much longer than Achab (in my experience anyway).

Even better still, you can read Billy Budd, where the man-love on sea is more explicit. :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 12th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)

where the man-love on sea is more explicit

*bewildered* But seriously, how did he get away with this? Did people simply not realise?
pathvainpathvain_aelien on March 13th, 2010 10:40 am (UTC)
You should read his short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener."