Moby Dick is a boring book. Someone told me this many years ago, and naturally I believed it. But the book a classic, a must-read. And when you do start reading Herman Melville’s famous work, it appears to be very interesting.
But it’s all a lie. Avast! It’s a boring book! It lulls you into interest from its first line: “Call me Ishmael.” The narrator’s friendship with the cannibal Queequeg in the early chapters is intriguing and promising; the native is a cannibal after all. But nobody gets eaten in this dull book, at least not by a cannibal. And after a few borderline surprising encounters with Ishmael’s new pagan friend, the story slips into an overly-descriptive travelogue.
The reason the book is boring is because nothing happens. The main story takes place aboard Captain Ahab’s whaling ship, the Pequod. Sent out on a three-year whaling journey, Ahab’s true intent is to exact revenge on Moby Dick, the whale that in a prior journey bit off the captain’s leg. It sounds very romantic and exciting, but it’s not.
There is some examination over what revenge does in the heart of a man, as there should be in a book deemed a classic. But the bulk of the book’s 135 chapters and epilogue are consumed with dry descriptions of ship parts and the work of whaling. There’s even an entire chapter devoted to describing books about whales. It’s a book describing books. While it’s all good content for someone doing a report on the whaling industry, it doesn’t move the story along. Even with hundreds of pages at his disposal, the author barely fleshes out the major characters.
It’s not just me who thinks the book is boring; Herman Melville agrees with me. That’s certainly why he plays around with different styles of writing within the book. Chapter 108 tells its part of the story in the form of a theatrical play. But even this can’t save the narrative.
The book does end with an intense battle scene, making for great Hollywood action. But it comes too little, too late. If you want to learn about revenge, try The Count of Monte Cristo instead. If it’s exciting whale battles you seek, skip to the last three or four chapters of Moby-Dick. You won’t miss much by skipping the hundred-plus introductory chapters.
The Well-Read Man Project
For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.