Achievement unlocked: bucket list book complete.
I tried reading Herman Melville’s classic once before – as a metal head I felt it was my obligation given how many great bands it has inspired – but got no more than 50 pages. It’s tough going.
But this time it just clicked.
It’s still a hard read: of the 600 or so pages only roughly 200 are concerned with the actual plot of Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white whale. Another 200 pages are given over to describing whales in excruciating anatomical detail; the other to describing – again, with eye-glazing exactitude – the process and business of whaling.
This is a book that would never get through a modern-day editor. The 11-page chapter about the colour white might be among the first passages to end up on the cutting room floor.
Yes for all its excesses and eccentricities this is still a marvellous novel. Melville’s writing can at times be tedious but it can also be breathtakingly good. There’s a lot of dreck to wade through but it’s worth it: Ahab’s tale – even 150 years later – is still so illuminating, Melville’s insights about obsession and revenge and the self-destructive undercurrents of manhood still so relevant.
Next: MORE WHALES