Monday, 9 June 2014

Moby Dick- Chapters 1-20

Whenever I thought of Moby Dick I thought what an overwhelming read. However participating in Roof Beam's  Readalong is good fun and will be great to tackle this book with others. I have not done this previously.

For the first part I must say this is not an overwhelming book to read. I am enjoying it thoroughly.
I am reading it in such a way that I use both auditory and visual methods.  I listen to the unabridged audio copy while following along in the Penguin copy.  Both methods work a treat and make it quite fun to hear the voices of the narrator of the audible while I read the visual book.  He does the voices wonderfully.

Now to the book.  This is Herman Melville's sixth novel and was written in 1851.

Ishmael is the protagonist and the story is told from his point of view. He has arrived in a small harbour side fishing town, New Bedford and the weather is less than ideal.  He searches for a place to lay his head for the night when he comes upon a very busy little hotel, The Spouter Inn. It is described much like an old rooming house.

When he enquires about a room he is told the hotel is absolutely full up but if he agrees to share a bed with a harpooner who is staying there, as the bed is a very big bed, he can stay.  Well he hems and haws and thinks this is a terrible idea but in the end after trying the chaise lounge that is far too narrow and short he agrees. After all what else is he going to do.

The description of him going to his room, figuring out how many of his clothes he will take off, thinking about the harpooner lying beside him, a man he has never met is very funny.  The hour grows later and there is yet no return of the harpooner. As it is so late into the night he finally decides to go to bed, thinking the harpooner has landed somewhere else for the night and he settles down.

Herman Melville does not fool around with descriptions. If you hate lots and lots of adjectives this book is not for you. However I have never minded excellent and overbearing descriptions because I feel like I am in this room with Ishmael.  Once settled, late into the night the harpooner does arrive in the room.

You must read the account of this to appreciate how funny the situation is.   He is a Polynesian harpooner of magnificent size named Queequeg.  He is also a cannibal and quite ferocious looking.  He has been out on the town selling the many shrunken heads he has acquired on his journeys. So you do not expect tenderness from this man.  You would be wrong.

 A friendship develops between the two men that is quite touching. Even going as far as they touch nose to nose when they greet each other. Again like the Maori or Polynesian culture.

They explore the town together during the daytime and there is much description about the church service and the sermon they attend together one day.  The thought of them sitting in a church pew, listening to a roaring sermon and their attitude towards it continues to entertain.

Now I notice some blogs love to talk about the food they eat in various literature. Well if you are once of those people you will not be disappointed for the hotel food is known for its mussels or cod.  However when the two sit down and the woman in charge of the kitchen asks if they would like cod or mussel there is great angst thinking how will a tiny mussel sustain them.  They choose the mussel I think mainly to see what it is like and are served a big heaping bowl of hot mussel chowder.

Now the northeast of America is known for their chowders and a good chowder is probably featured in every cookbook up and down the Atlantic coast. The description of the chowders make one salivate. Once finished with the mussel chowder they again order the cod chowder this time. Again another chapter of descriptions.  I quite enjoyed hearing about these delicious hot chowders, mainly as it is winter here and the thoughts of hot fires in the room and steaming chowders with crusty hot bread sounds most comfortable.

The final shrunken head that Queequeg, the harpooner tries to sell less so.

The chapters continue to describe the goings on in this town and more recently now they are starting to think about finding a whaling ship to leave the town.  They come across the small fishing ship of the Pequod when they go to Nantucket and both have interviews.  The criteria for being a whaler is quite interesting and once Ishmael is offered a job he tries to get a job for Queequeg.  However when they find out he is a cannibal there are some concerns.  They also have not met Captain Ahab but hear some very disconcerting news of him after their interviews on board with others on the ship.

After all, I guess if I was going to sea for several months I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with a cannibal.  I think when you read this book you must pretend you are right beside these two and are sharing the journey with them.  They are extremely well developed characters. I think Herman Melville does a wonderful job with getting the feel of things right.

The only other experience I have with Herman Melville was my Grade 12 English class of Billy Budd.  I was absolutely traumatised by boredom in the way it was presented and I swore back then I'd never go near Melville again.  Well it has taken almost 50 years but I am there.  I still remember the Billy Budd experience as if it were yesterday but I think I can finally put that memory to rest. I might even read it again after enjoying this one. But we'll think about that more later.

I am ready now to begin Chapter 21 and hope to be back again in another week with an update of it all.   So far I am loving this book.  It truly is a wonderful, wonderful book. We'll see if I still feel that way next week.


  1. I think Moby Dick sounds a lot more interesting than it was when I had to read it for a lit class. Wish I'd had your comments back then. Great idea to listen and read at the same time.

  2. It is a lot more interesting than I expected it to be. I was surprised really at all the humour in it. Maybe next time you read it you'll enjoy it more. School seems to ruin books for people the way they used to be taught. Wonder if that has changed now.

  3. Hi Pam, I got a second message from you which mysteriously disappeared from my iPad when I tried to read it. Could you please send it again. Sorry, don't know what happened! Technology has a life of its own sometimes!
    Lisbeth @ the Content Reader


I love comments. I promise to try very hard to reply to any message left.