Do you like clam chowder? I do, and it’s a good thing, too, because I just
finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and there’s no escaping the desire to eat a hearty helping of this port-style soup. It almost forces
you to crave, to be unfulfilled—much like a certain character in the novel, with his ivory leg and his narrowing madness caused by the white whale that stole his limb.
The book begins with the second most famous introduction in literature (a
close second to Dickens’s “best of times, worst of times” rant at the start
of A Tale of Two Cities). “Call me Ishmael,” the character invites
the reader, and in we go.
It’s a life at sea for all readers young and old, and this whaler keeps its
wind from beginning to end as we follow Ishmael and his chance friend,
Quee-Queg (and Quee-Queg’s little god, Yojo), as they hunt the legendary
leviathan under the insane command of Captain Ahab. Oh, and of course there
are plenty of bowls of clam chowder for all.
The book opens with Ishmael explaining his boredom with living on the land
and his desire to go to sea. On his way to port, he meets Quee-Queg, and the
two become friends. They get work aboard the Pequod, Captain Ahab’s ship,
and set sail.
The crew of the Pequod capture several whales, but it soon becomes evident
that Ahab is less interested in whaling and far more concerned with hunting
down and destroying the white whale known as Moby Dick. I won’t spoil anything for those of you who have yet to read this ageless classic, but rest assured
that the end is one of the most under-appreciated in literature, and its
impact is essentially what makes this book so unforgettable. In fact, much
of the rest of the book is really just set-up for the last few chapters.
In its day, Moby Dick was considered a very realistic portrayal of life on a
whale ship, describing in lengthy detail the daily life of whalers and the dangers of the hunt and speaking at length about the anatomy of whales. While this is one of the reasons why the book is so highly praised, the information can get tedious at points, but the action interspaced throughout the text helps to dilute some of the more scientific ramblings. And, in the end, the reader will find this balance acceptable.
If you’ve been looking for a good adventure book—or if you like sailing or
marine biology, or even if you just like soup—this book is for you.