“Call me Ishmael.” – undoubtedly one of the most powerful opening lines in the history of English Literature.
But, remember that time when you were a toddler and your mom used to flash these otherwise insanely scrumptious candies at you during meals, you pounced at them and somehow they tasted like spinach and broccoli, every time? Well, that is the déjà vu I had throughout the book. I mean, this, to me, is one of the most confusing books ever written- non-fiction concealed inside a very attractive wrapper of fiction. Book? Text book? Dissertation? Thesis?
Moby Dick is a misnomer. It’s actually ‘Whaling- 101’ with real-time examples of Ahab and his crew so that you understand the Do’s & Don’ts of the Whaling industry better. I learnt what Whales are, how, when and why they evolved, their biological composition & habitat, anatomy of Whales, the role of Whales in the food chain, how to manage a Whaling vessel, kinds of harpoons, Whaling Industry, social and economic impacts of Whaling, uses of Spermaceti; the list is endless and spans over 80% of the book. I mean if all else fails, I can consider whaling as a career option now; I think I got the basics clear. It could never have occurred to me before this book. So, there’s that.
Thanks to Librivox & the amazing reader Stewart Wills, without whom I could not have finished the book. I am sorry, but I am a sucker for fiction. So, I found myself in a very tight spot for most part of the book. Moby Dick’s gynormous reputation and the obsession with it in ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ that I watched as an impressionable kid built up this giant wall of expectations, which the book, could not leap across, for me. Also, it got somewhat racist at times and somewhat funny at others, especially the part where the entire crew of men chorus, “We want Sperm!” for pages. But, we can exempt the author of these as it was 1800’s and my sense of humour is evidently bad.
Well, this is the first time I talked about the Uh-Oh’s of a book first. Getting past that, it’s very clear that Herman Melville is not to be taken lightly. He meant business. The book is extremely informative. It was just not the kind of information I was ready for right now. Nevertheless, considering the time it was written in and the way it’s written, undoubtedly, this had to become one of the most consequential novels in history. It was not just any voyage, but a Whaling voyage and Melville made it sure the readers never lost sight of that. “It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
The story, though shadowed for most part, is surreal. It deals with ambition, revenge and obsession. The voyage stands for what introspection would look like if it were projected into an experience. (That was a bad way of saying self-discovery.) The rumbling sea echoes the tumult inside the brain of Ahab as he helplessly seeks the harbour while drifting further away from shore. The interspersed revelations he has towards the end break fresh rays of hope, like buoys. We try to hold on to them for the sake of Ahab, but he gives in to temptations. We become a part of this crew ourselves, hoot with Stub, flail with Quequeg and row with Starbuck. The book closes in the same majestic fashion as it begins. Like the White Whale, it is grand and awe-inspiring. With its depth and dimension, this book certainly is the first Modern Novel.
“Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him.”