Some time ago, I decided it was time to branch out from my usual Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre, and read some “classic” books. It was going well, until I hit Moby-Dick. Now I’m seriously reconsidering my decision.
In recent months, I’ve read Oliver Twist, Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, King Solomon’s Mines, Wuthering Heights and others. I thought Oliver Twist was needlessly wordy, Tess was unnecessarily depressing and Wuthering Heights overly dramatic.
But none of these have approached the level of overwrought abuse of the English language found in Moby-Dick. Melville never uses one word when 500 will do. He wrote an entire chapter about the colour white. Another chapter was dedicated to describing the tail of a whale in great detail. One-quarter of the way through the book, the narrator, Ismael, wasn’t even on the ship, yet the book is supposed to be about hunting a whale. And speaking of the narrator, for a 19th-century sailor he seems uncommonly informed about biology, geology, classical Greek literature and a myriad of other subjects that have nothing to do with sailing or whaling.
Now, I have nothing against a good sub-reference or two (just read one of my Survivor recaps to see what I mean), but to compare whalers to Perseus, St George, Hercules, Jonah and “Vishnoo” [sic] seems a bit of a stretch. I can’t help but wonder if, like Dickens, Melville was paid by the word. It’s the only thing that would make this garrulous writing style remotely acceptable.
I am one of those people who, once he starts a book, can never stop until it’s read. This book has seriously made me hate this trait of mine. Words cannot express how deliriously happy I am that this ordeal is over. In short, which I’m sure is a word seldom used in a review of Moby-Dick, go rent the movie.
Now excuse me while I go read a Dragonlance book.