Well, reading "Moby Dick" is a complex and arduous pursuit, and you don't even get a "lay" for finishing it -- unless you want to get laid by a bibliophile, of course. I can't possibly do this behemouth justice -- I leave that to Thinkulous, who has even made a pilgrimmage to New Bedford in honour of the book -- but I can at least tell you how I FELT about it during the beginning, middle, and end.
At the beginning of the book I was sprightly and enthusiastic, full of devil-may-care derring-do. I was prepared to read slowly and carefully. From previous experience I knew that "Moby Dick" requires commitment and concentration; if I "skimmed" I'd find myself adrift like poor Pip, watching the narrative float away, and the only review I'd finally offer would be "I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look." Which is just plain confusing.
In the middle I was getting into the swing. I'd found my sea legs. Every digression was a new revelation. Every word was essential. I loved Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. I loved their theatrical asides. I loved Tashtego's gruesome descent into the Great Heidelburgh Tun.
But somewhere around chapter 99 ("The Doubloon") my mind began to wander. The book had given up all pretence of "adventure," and had even left behind much of its naturalism, and was becoming more and more concerned with ethereal notions...and by chapter 104 ("The Fossil Whale") I found my mind wandering. Where the heck was Moby Dick? Did it matter? I could still appreciate the ideas behind Melville's digressions, but I no longer wanted them to be in this particular book.
The final chase and climax was a bit like watching a constipated person on the toilet. We know the whale is in there somewhere, but it just won't come out. It seems like Melville's pushing and pushing -- chase number one, chase number two, chase number three -- and when finally -- ah! -- the release...well, it's not a whale in the bowl, it's just a small porpoise turd.
I'm not saying I didn't like the ending. I am saying that it doesn't do justice to the lead-up or to the route we've taken to get there. And I still love the book and I think it's something special, but -- on first complete reading -- I appreciate it more for its digressions...and, strangely enough, it's the PLOT that prevented me from enjoying the digressions as much as I might have. When Melville described the whale and the ocean and the slickness of spermicetti, I was in love. When he brought us back to Ahab's insane quest, however, I wished Ahab would just GET THE HELL ON WITH IT.
PS: It turns out that I DIDN'T know how it ended after all. I thought that Ishmael was telling us the tale from the bottom of the ocean, no doubt thanks to these lines from Laurie Anderson's song "Blue Lagoon":
Full fathom five thy father lies.Now I realize that the bulk of those lines do NOT come from "Moby Dick." Anderson has a long obsession with the novel, and this has inspired me to go back and have another listen to her "Life on a String" album, which contains some songs inspired by the book. Songs I didn't like much the first time around.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade.
But that suffers a sea change.
Into something rich and strange.
And I alone am left to tell the tale.
Call me Ishmael.
PPS: I did see a "Moby Dick" movie adaptation about ten years ago. I remember not caring much for it, but I do recall one haunting image: Fedallah flopping back and forth in the tangled lines.