On a previous voyage, a mysterious white whale had ripped off the leg of a sea captain named Ahab. Now the crew of the Pequod, on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps, must follow the mad Ahab into the abyss to satisfy his unslakeable thirst for vengeance. Narrated by the cunningly observant crew member Ishmael, Moby Dick is the tale of the hunt for the elusive, omnipotent, and ultimately mystifying white whale - Moby Dick.
On its surface, Moby Dick is a vivid documentary of life aboard a 19th-century whaler, a virtual encyclopedia of whales and whaling, replete with facts, legends, and trivia that Herman Melville had gleaned from personal experience and scores of sources. But as the quest for the whale becomes increasingly perilous, the tale works on allegorical levels, likening the whale to human greed, moral consequence, good, evil, and life itself. Who is good? The great white whale who, like Nature, asks nothing but to be left in peace? Or the bold Ahab who, like scientists, explorers, and philosophers, fearlessly probes the mysteries of the universe? Who is evil? The ferocious, man-killing sea monster? Or the revenge-obsessed madman who ignores his own better nature in his quest to kill the beast?
Public Domain (P)2010 Tantor
James Joyce once said that if Dublin were blown off the map, it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, from "Ulysses." Herman Melville tried to do something similar here: if the Nantucket whaling industry disappeared from history, it could be reconstructed in all its particulars from "Moby Dick".
It's an incredible novel. In fact, calling it just a novel is misleading: it's part documentary, part theater, part incantation, part philosophy; partly Biblical and partly Shakespearean. The riven Ahab towers over the action, his single-minded obsession occasionally giving way to a more mundane kindness; but leading him on inexorably for all that, to the smashing, chilling, crunching, annihilating climax.
Anthony Heald has given a brilliant and well-received reading of the novel. Dietz's version isn't better (or worse), just different. He is clearly reading it, where Heald sometimes sounds like he's making it up as he goes along; but there's a beautiful rhythm to Dietz's reading, a relentless pace, one phrase after another pouring out, rising and falling until the final gasp. The only thing marring it are Dietz's idiosyncratic pronunciations of some of the words: "mariner," for example, always comes out as "mah-riner," and "Ishmael" sounds more like "Ish-me-all." (Attempts to sound New Englandish?) Both readings illuminate a different aspect of the novel. I plan to keep both and listen to both again.
The good news about this particular edition of Moby Dick is that it is genuinely unabridged, that is to say it includes the Etymology and Extracts which form the introduction to the novel. These take up about an hour of reading time missing from all the other editions, so far as I can tell. They may not be central to the plot of the story, but, if you are a purist, you will want them. If the first line of your edition begins, "Call me Ishmael," it is not truly unabridged. (This explains, partially, the widely varying time differences in the various recordings).
The bad news about this edition is the narrator. There's something grating about his homespun tone and inflections. I couldn't listen to him for long and ended up buying the Anthony Heald narration, which, though it doesn't include the introductory material, is much more gracefully narrated. So, if you must have an audio edition that is truly unabridged, buy this version because there's no other choice, but if you're looking for a well-narrated novel, I'd advise against it.
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