(P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The greatest of American novels." (Atlantic Monthly)
"[A]n intense, superbly authentic narrative. Its theme and central figure are reminiscent of Job in his search for justice and of Oedipus in his search for truth."(Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature)
I'm a 60 yr old former English major and grad student. It's been fascinating revisiting the books I studied in my 20s, read aloud to me.
I got it in my head last summer to read Moby Dick again after 30 years. Don't know what I was thinking, as I could not get past the first few chapters, I kept getting distracted and losing interest. On a whim, I downloaded this reading on Audible. I absolutely LOVED it! The narrator's unique voice and his colorful portrayal of the various (memorable!) characters in this long, rambling novel kept me fascinated and involved from the first minute to the last, many many hours later. In fact, when the novel ended, I kept respectful silence in my car for about a week, then listened to the whole thing over again, as there were many details that I seemed to have lost track of as the hours went on. Second time round, I was amazed at the symbolism, echoes, foreshadowing, and meditations on good vs. evil. I also kept trying to find clues as to why this is so often regarded as a great "American" novel--why American as opposed to any other country's? Still not sure about that, though I'm sure there are treatises and Ph.D's devoted to the topic if I wanted to pursue it. At any rate, I have come away from this narrator's reading convinced of Melville's brilliance and uniqueness as a novelist. I have simply never read (well, heard) a book like this one. I really think it's easier to have this novel read to you than to read it on the page. The discursions and treatises on whaling, shipping, the color white, depictions of the whale in art, blubber, ropes, shipboard carpentry and all the rest are fascinating when this particular narrator tells you about them in his distinctive accents and intonations. I don't know if I'll buy another contemporary novel on Audible again; I am pursuing readings of classic novels for the foreseeable future.
I must confess that I hated this book the first time I read it and so was very pleasantly surprised to find that listening greatly improved the experience, so much so, that I've actually begun reading it again. Its true, parts are dull (catalogue of whales, etc.), but other parts are, amazingly, quite funny. I can finally see why it's considered one of the greatest of all American novels -- the adventure plot and provacative themes make for an engrossing listening experience. The only negative (hence the four-, instead of five-, star rating) was the narrator -- at times, I found his diction and tone a bit annoying.
I can't believe some found the narrator sub par. This guy did a great job with tough material and did so in a way that kept the story moving. I could never have read this book by myself and finished it. My hat is off to the narrator, excellent job. Bravo.
As for the content of the unabridged book, be prepared for lengthy dissertations on what the color white means, how whale is best prepared and whale anatomy. This book is best listen to in small segments but in the end you will be left with a sense of accomplishment for sticking it through. You will also be rewarded with a much better understanding of what it must have been like to be on a whaling vessel in the late 1800's.
Moby Dick is a brilliant novel, but it requires incredible attention. You need a reader who brings life to the words. Of the dozen readers with their versions of Moby Dick out there, Anthony Heald's is by far the best. He brings Moby Dick to life.
I approached this book with trepidation as I had heard it was formidable in terms of the patience required.
By the end of the book I was thinking that THIS is the way to experience the book! Like a Shakespearean play, which is richer in the "performance" than on the page, an audiobook of Moby Dick sweeps you into the action without burdening you with the unfamilar patterns of 19th century prose.
Starts a bit slow, but before you know it, you're just eager to see what happens next. By the end of it, I had a true appreciation for just how good, and how deserving of respect, this novel is.
Finally! I have experienced Moby Dick at a depth and breadth that allows me to personally appreciate why many consider it a great American novel. Far exceeding my goal of getting me through the chapter about species of whales, this Audible edition involved me to the extent I could experience how incredibly unique (alien, really) and breathtakingly adventurous the life of a whaler was. Now...I wonder...is Ulysses within reach as a potential aesthetic experience?
Samurai films are my favorite genre pictures. Mainly what attracts me to them isn't so much that I love Japanese history or ever wanted to be a samurai, it's that I love how a good, proper samurai film teases out the action until the finale. Samurai films are about patience; the slow burn. Shots might linger on the rain, or cherry blossoms, or footprints in the snow, or the sounds of cicadas in the summer heat but the 'action' isn't until after two hours of build up.
For me anticipation is what I love, perhaps more than the resolution itself. I love waiting for something to happen but I never really was that excited for the thing itself. I suppose I just like having something to look forward to. Expectation and imagination is, typically, far more interesting than reality.
A samurai would spend his entire life training for battle yet, like the samurai in Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' not be victorious even once. There would be very little glory in a war; only the young and inexperienced would find it romantic while the old veterans would know there is never really any winning a war.
And that is what Moby Dick is for me: a samurai film set at sea where the warriors are all Nantucket whalers and the villain is a fish.
Melville, too, must have felt similar about anticipation as I do. His whole novel - though this is not a novel, it's really an epic poem - is imagination and anticipation and beautiful images of the sea and of death and of the whaling life. Yet in the end it's all so futile.
"Great God, where is the ship?"
One thing I hadn't counted on about Moby Dick is how even though everyone who hasn't read the novel is well aware of it and the events within, it's not a book you can really know anything about without reading. This is a book, like Ulysses, you have to experience. You have to live through this novel; it has to happen to you. This isn't a story to be told in the normal sense - in fact the book is almost everything but a normal novel after we set sail - this is a book whose art is in forcing you to live the events of the book as if you are on that cursed ship.
Something that really struck me is that our narrator who is so famously introduced to us in one of the great first lines in a book - 'Call me Ishmael' - slowly ghosts away as the novel goes on. What starts as a book about Ishmael's experience getting on the ship and learning about whaling (and the entire science of whales), he lets go of our hand and we begin floating about the Pequod like a disembodied spirit. We overhear everyone's conversations, even their private mutterings, and the point of view expands out to be in all places at all times. It's an unsettling sensation because Melville is physically enlisting onto that ship as a shipmate and after our initial training we are forced to watch the events unfold to their conclusion.
I also had no idea that the novel is not really a novel - not in the traditional sense. Moby Dick is, basically, postmodern but from the 1850's. I had expected a somewhat straightforward novel about the grappling with a whale, not 209,117 pages of epic poetry. I had not expected the novel to still feel so fresh as it must have been when it was written nearing on 200 years ago.
One last thing that I have to confess is that I don't believe Ahab was mad. Obsessed? yes, but not insane. He was a salty captain with 40 years of experience at sea and he knew what he was doing. I don't even think he had a death wish, I just think he saw an opportunity to be truly great and flew at it with everything he had. He was already a great whaler (how else would he have lasted so long?) so he knew he could defeat that fish if he really tried. And I don't see anything wrong with that, too. All those men knew what they were in for and if Starbuck was more of a man he might have stopped Ahab, but Ahab is the sort of person who winds up wither being great or being killed; he is no ordinary person.
He's very American in that way - he'll damn everything to get what he wants.
Overall and beyond all the great themes of the novel is just how damn well it's written. There is nothing like this book. The language is so seductive, the imagery so vivid, everything on that ship and the sea so perfectly realized that there were times I had to pinch myself that this was real. Some of the writing is so good that it almost doesn't even seem possible, as if it were written by some God.
Now that I'm done with the book I'm sad. I've now read Moby Dick and there are only so many great novels in the world worth throwing a harpoon at. But what a voyage getting there!
A great book and a great narrator. What more can you ask for? I only wish there were more of Melville's sea adventure books available as audio books.
This was my first encounter with Melville and Moby Dick, but it won't be my last. I loved the hodge podge of so many different kinds of writing, from sermons to adventure stories to anatomy lessons to art history to plays. Whalers speaking in shakespearean-style verse! Melville's writing style is flamboyant and he's good enough to pull it off. The reader did a great job with this very complex work.
This book is as deep as it is difficult. When listening, make notes to look up obscure references to mythology, religion, and so forth. The book cannot be properly appreciated without understanding, for example, the connections between Perseus, Hercules, and Prometheus, or what the myth of Narcissus says. The ideas he works with are highly philosophical--he is criticizing and agreeing with certain philosophical positions and developing his own position as he wrestles with The Great Questions. This book cannot be fully appreciated in one, two, or even three readings--which is one reason why it is one of the greatest classics of all time. Take your time. Stop and think about the significance of strange passages. For example, the chapter on the whiteness of the whale, and the chapter on the study of whales, which reviewers were frustrated by, have significant meanings--they are not excess fat that should have been cut. Listen closely and you'll catch the humor, beauty, and sublimity of this masterpiece. After listening, return to it again in a few years. The second time around will likely yield a much richer experience.
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