Three star review, originally posted here on June 6, 2017.
I was sucked in from the very first word of this book. Yeah, it was written forever ago, but it sure didn’t feel that way, and I felt like I was right there with the narrator every step of the way. And that was before we even got into the boat! I thought, “Oh man, if this book is so amazing before we’ve even started sailing, imagine how wicked awesome it will be once we get into the actual action! I can’t wait!”
At some point maybe 100 pages or so in, I glanced back at other people’s Goodreads reviews, and was surprised by the number of people claiming it was boring or hard to follow or went into too many details about whaling. “Are these people all smoking crack?” I thought. “This Melville guy is freakin’ awesome!”
Then the ship set sail, and I was all giddy, and then…
Shit, turns out the other reviews were right. Suddenly this epic masterpiece felt like someone’s failing NaNoWriMo project. Like Melville started with a clear picture in his mind and started finely crafting his tale, but then he hit a writer’s block and realized he had thousands more words to write and he just started throwing down some serious filler just to hit his wordcount. One of the most egregious was an entire painfully long chapter listing out every single whale on the freakin’ planet, basically just inserting an encyclopedia in the middle of his tale. Really, like half this book could easily just be chopped out, and while it may be sacrilege, I really wished that I’d had an abridged copy. I had a much easier time with this book once I gave myself permission to just start skipping over entire chapters.
Still, amidst the filler every now and then we got back to the actual story, and that’s where the novel really shined again. The basic rule of thumb was, where people are actually doing and saying things, the book is golden. The interactions between the characters, the sections where they actually meet some whales or other boats, etc, are all beautifully and engrossingly told. And things definitely pick up again towards the end.
Still, by that point the damage is done, and what we end up with is essentially equal parts “5 star greatest novel of all time” and “1 star garbage.” Even though I wound up with a neutral 3 stars, I still recommend that people give it a go since it is a classic. But I also recommend that you give yourself leave, just this once, to skip ahead when things start getting dull.