Moby Dick by Herman Melville – A Book Group’s Reaction

I’ll admit that I was a little daunted when Moby Dick was picked for last months book group. Six hundred pages of 19th century fiction? Eek! Not to be putt off I threw myself into Moby Dick determined no to be one of those readers completely lost and disheartened by the book. A few chapters in and my resolve began to wane.

Most people seem to know this story whether they’ve read the book or not. The tale of Captain Ahab and his descent into insanity following a battle with the infamous Moby Dick leaves him bereft of one leg and all of his dignity.

He sets of on a crazed mission to track down the giant sperm whale convinced that the attack was a malicious one.

Embroiling his crew upon his mission he tricks them into thinking it’s just a normal expedition and then later reveals his plans.

On paper the book sounds fascinating, I love books that intimately explore human psychology and the extreme sides and consequences of our desires.

However anyone who has previously read or attempted to read this book might agree that surrounding Ahab’s fascinating descent is a book heavily burdened by tiresome details and facts that seem wholly unnecessary.

Is it really compelling reading to devote so many pages to agonizingly detailed descriptions of each type of whale, it’s habits and appearance? Or the different types of knots used by sailors? However I tried to remain patient. The book was written a long time ago and such information might not have as readily being available as it is today. Perhaps Melville thought his readers would appreciate such extensive information.

But still the whole book seems confused, is it a factual reference for whale fanatics or is it a fictional novel? I couldn’t help thinking ‘please make your mind up’.

When first published the book received criticism along the same lines, however in modern days the book is hailed by many as a genius work of fiction. So what was I missing?

I had hoped out of the other four book group members someone might have caught the meaning and soul of the book where I had failed. Sadly this wasn’t the case.

For a record first time no one managed to complete the book and not from lack of trying, we all tried to get into the book and even postponed the book group meet to give us more time but still the book evaded us.

But opinions weren’t completely one-sided. Some of us felt that although the book was tiring and difficult at times, we did also have moments of pleasure when the threads of the story came together and the more interesting aspects of the book shone through. I loved the parts were Ishmael charted Ahab’s growing madness and I also enjoyed the character descriptions and depictions of life during the 19th century.

Others had similar experiences and only grew frustrated with the book when Melville went right of course and digressed back into more factual writings.

A few of us agreed that we would one day try to finish the book as we’d got so far. Others were honest and admitted they never intended to.

So where did it all go wrong? As a book group that always finishes the books and tries the best to appreciate a novel why was this so difficult?

What does everyone else think of Moby Dick? Have you read ir or attempted it? If so do you like or loath it? Maybe you can point out where w all went wrong? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Moby Dick by Herman Melville – A Book Group’s Reaction

    • Nicely summed up!! : ) I think even in it’s day the book was criticised for similar reasons but you’re right we do praise writers who manage to succinctly tell their story and Moby Dick is just a complete paradox.

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