Wednesday 25 August 2010

Book report.

Moby Dick or, The White Whale, Herman Melville, 1851

Finally, I finished reading Moby Dick yesterday. Yes, it did take two months to get through. As I’m sure there are plenty of people who know of the book and may be tempted to read it someday, I won’t spoil the ending. If you like the first chapter, it is worth it to finish the whole thing, take your time. It doesn’t dribble out towards the end. The very last sentence packs an emotional punch.

If you don’t like the first chapter, put it down; it starts as it continues. Melville is very fond of fancy-talk, complicated words, cultural references and phrases like poetry. At one point, he seems a bit over fond of the word “monomaniacal” but he gets past that.  From the foreword, it seems the Melville was wanting to explore the nature of truth and human existence, using symbolism with multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings. The characters and situations aren’t supposed to feel realistic, but to explain deeper meanings. Without the foreword, I wouldn’t have understood that. I can only say I enjoyed it for the language rather than the plot or characters. I don’t understand Ahab. That sort of motivation just isn't in my nature.

In Ishmael, Melville did create quite a character. He’s tough, but very intellectual and not at all humble about it. Generally, I think of myself as familiar enough with the classics to at least keep up with the overall meaning of a reference. But Melville’s Ishmael seems to delight in casually pointing out my cultural ignorance, as well as my ignorance of whaling (which is perfectly understandable).  I don’t think this is simply because of the 150 years that have passed. I’ve put 33 scraps of paper in the book, marking points where I just don’t know what he’s on about (the lack of access to Google on the bus is probably a blessing, otherwise I would have spent even longer looking all this stuff up). I am particularly interested in the reference to Darmonodes’ elephant.

Now, I could be wrong here, but I found Ishmael very funny, a narrator with a wicked sense of humour. From chapter 13, Wheelbarrow:  “I settled my own and comrade’s bill; using, however, my comrade’s money.” How can that not be funny? The book isn’t full of jokes, but there are points where Ishmael is poking fun, rather than just being moody. Or maybe it’s just me.

On a different note, I had a very superstitious day yesterday. Shortly after finishing the book, a black cat crossed my path, which was quite cute. The bus had stopped at a crossing point, and as it was beeping a cat jumped down from the wall on our side of the street and casually crossed to the other side. I also saw a dead pigeon, which wasn't cute. But then getting off the bus on my way home, I found an especially nice button.

Today, I'm back to knitting. P's got an old pair of headphones where the 'skin' is flaking off the ear pads. I said I would try to make covers for them, and the headphones have been in my crafting pile for, oh, about 5 years now. Hopefully it will only be another month before they are out of my pile and back into active use.

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