"Herman Melville’s masterpiece went largely unread during his lifetime and was out of print at the time of his death in 1891."
At the time of my writing these words, at least eighteen thousand other people have left theirs. What room remains for my thoughts? What matters them, at all? And could I even encapsulate the feelings that this book has wrought upon my soul, after a mere single reading? No matter how close?
I think this is a book that I'll have to read again, and perhaps several more times after that, to glean the bulk of the wisdom woven within. For most of us, Moby Dick is the book you see on the bookshelf of a movie villain, or perhaps a hero-lawman-bounty hunter type. It's supposed to inform the audience of the revenge-laden and single-mindedness of the character. So, upon embarking on the quest to consume my second "great work of literature"—the first being the monolithic and incomparable Les Misérables—I brought with me some four decades worth of cinema-fueled expectations. None of which were met at all until the last hundred or so pages!
I don't wish to spoil anything for anyone. If you think you know the story of Moby Dick, and haven't read the book, chances are high that you don't really know it. I would best liken the bulk of the text to an almost encyclopaedical nature: the narrator does their level best to impress upon the reader the ins and outs of whales, and the industry of tapping them for their then-precious oils. There's a chapter devoted to the discussion of how early renderings of whales barely capture the true essence of what it is to behold one in the flesh: if a picture is worth only a thousand words, then meeting a sea leviathan should be worth uncountable. And through the medium of those words, Melville attempts—and largely succeeds—to impress upon us the truly Herculean scale of the whaling endeavor. Of course, there's the monomaniacal captain and his mad quest for revenge, but that all seems almost a sidebar in the face of the naturalism that forms the foundation of the book.
I fully expect to come back and update this review when I return to the book again in a few years.