Frank Muller, may he rest in peace, could make the phone book entertaining if he read it aloud. This book is no different in that it's outstandingly read. However, the plot is very very slow. The language is artful and the themes are interestingly explored. The world of the 18th/19th century shipping culture is vividly presented, but if you're not a fan of a literary genre that prizes style of presentation over brisk plot movement and character development, you may not enjoy this book very much.
For example, at one point Melville goes on for over an hour about the color white. The prose of this section is arful, and that can be enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, but not otherwise. It took me a while of starts and stops to finish this one, but I'm glad to have Muller's work, even if the writing was not my cup of tea.
I got this audiobook because I felt I should read Moby Dick. It’s a classic, well-written with loads of symbolism. But its not a book to enjoy, I don’t think. There are sections which are interesting, and others which are endlessly didactic, and I felt trapped as an unwilling student who’s entered the wrong class and may not leave. Albeit that the lecturer is brilliant with an excellent presentation.
I abhor whaling, since as a child I was taken to a whaling station on a school trip. The blood and gore, shock and tragedy have remained with me the rest of my life. Modern extermination of whales and other sea life is even worse. It hurts to hear how these beautiful creatures are killed.
I feel ashamed at what we humans do. Imagine taking a substance from a magnificent animal’s brain, one we cannot as yet decipher but suspect it has to do with audio waves and echos, and then selling it for candle oil!?!*? Unthinkable. But sadly true.
Nevertheless, the personalities, characters and overall descriptions are a study in themselves, and the narration by Frank Muller is a joy to hear. I grew to appreciate his reading of this book. At the start I was under the impression that he hated it, and wanted to get it over with as fast as possible. Later, I realised he’s the perfect narrator.
In rating this classic, I’m considering its value as a literary gem, not my personal level of enjoyment.
Moby-Dick is irrefutably a masterpiece but the performance by Frank Muller truly captures the essence of every moment of the novel. Never before has the fluidity and rhythm of Melville
been so apparent to me than when I listened to this audiobook. It truly brings new life to a timeless classic. I couldn't recommend it highly enough to a first time reader or someone revisiting the book.
Most versions of Moby Dick begin with an etymology and extracts on whaling. I think it properly sets the tone for the book. I was greatly disappointed to discover that this version does not include this important section at the opening. I read on wikipedia that it was mysteriously moved to the end of the third volume in some editions, so perhaps it's included there. I also double-checked my print version, the Wordsworth American version, which does include they etymology and extracts at the start. I have also noticed that this reading is several hours shorter than most readings. I only hope that more is not taken out. I will continue to listen and provide further information if necessary.
(There were different English and American versions, but the English versions are supposedly longer.)
I must admit that I found Melville's leviathan of a masterpiece to be almost as much a trial as it is a triumph; the "documentary" material on whales and whaling is just vastly out of proportion to what is necessary to tell the story or add vividness and color. Frank Muller's narration, however, never flags in those qualities: vividness, color, urgency, and eloquence are its essence. I've never heard better narration of a classic.
Thoreau's 'Walden' and Ayn Rand's 25th anniversary introduction to 'The Fountainhead' summarize my library well.
Moby-Dick is in my Top 3 favorite Audible titles I own. Muller's narration is exquisite, and plays perfect complement to the wide variety of characters aboard the Pequod and scenes inland and at sea. Excellent production quality as well.
I see how many could tire of all the technical and cetological detail, but I loved it. Mind you: there was no YouTube, no Wikipedia, not even National Geographic in Melville's time. All anyone knew of whalers was what they saw in an inland mess hall: scruffy men quietly hunched over their food. Melville takes you into their minds and hearts of the seafaring life more than any modern media today can, with a writing style that bucked the trend in the 19th century. All without an editor telling him there weren't enough sex scenes or that no one has the patience for 135 chapters. A masterpiece, indeed.
Moby Dick is a many faceted novel. It has long sections which serve solely to educate the reader about the taxonomy and anatomy of whales and reads like a naturalist’s field book for an audience which would have no other means to visualize these enormous creatures. There are historical and economic essays on the role of whaling in society. Essays on vessels, equipment and crew with long passages about the life and duties of the whaler. Exacting strategies of landing a whale and method of processing its bulk, along with yields, storage and maintenance. But intertwined with all of the exposition, Herman Melville has incorporated a philosophical, introspective, adventure story with some surprising social commentary for a book published in 1851.
In the tenth chapter we have the marriage of Queequeg and Ishmael, both male characters. Some passages are merely suggestive, such as their union in the Innkeepers wedding bed, and some of the more genial bed play. Some are more overt.
“He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married…”
After which Queequeg divides his belongings and gives half to Ishmael. And again,
"How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg – a cosy, loving pair."
Melville also interjects some surprisingly subversive religious opinions. When trying to convince the Quaker owners of the Pequod to allow Queequeg on board, Ishmael argues:
"I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in THAT we all join hands."
Or this curious portion of their wedding where Ishmael considers his participation in idol worship.
“I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I… to do the will of God--THAT is worship. And what is the will of God?--to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me--THAT is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world”.
Finally, and perhaps my favorite rumination concludes several reflections on man’s violence to one another.
"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began. Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?"
Herman Melville’s work is full of complex and beautiful prose, and so much more than the simply revenge story I assumed it to be. Moby Dick is an accurate depiction of the knowledge of the natural sciences - and a window into social and religious consciousness of the 1850s.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
I've been working my way through intimidating classics, and Moby-Dick was near the top of the list. I've heard that it was slow and boring. I was prepared for the worst, but I jumped in anyway.
I was immediately blown away by the prose. Wow, Herman Melville sure could put a sentence together. I mean, you instantly see why this is such a respected novel. And behind all the elegant phrasing, there is such wit!
I never knew Moby-Dick was supposed to be a funny book, but it is. And I'm just talking about the humor that has stood the test of time. I imagine there were plenty of jokes in here that I totally missed, given how subtle Melville's sense of humor could be.
Now, the key to listening to Moby-Dick is to forget about the plot. That's not what the book is about. The book is a collection of tangents about the sea and whales in general. If you're waiting for Ahab to battle his whale the whole time, you're going to be bored, and you're going to miss the best stuff. This is why I'm giving the story a 3/5 while I'm giving the book a 4/5. The book isn't about the plot. It's about everything else.
I'm not giving the story a full 5/5, because even while recognizing that it is brilliant, I have to say that it was still a lot more work to get through than other classics. I enjoyed the book in spite of its meandering, but I need more than pretty prose and wit to be happy. I do need a driving, progressing plot to keep me happy for 20+ hours.