I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I was very surprised to find myself actually enjoying it. Melville is obviously keen to impart his whaling knowledge as the book is very anecdotal, going into a lot of detail about the period knowledge of whales and whale hunting. The actual hunt for Moby Dick is drawn out by these so the book isn’t the fast paced action thriller that a lot of film adaptations would have you believe. The narrative meanders, with Melville moving between the present Pequod whaler captained by the infamous Ahab, and various memories used by the narrator to illustrate or retell whaling stories.
It does show its age in the biological aspect of the narrative, and I spent many an afternoon looking up what the modern equivalent of the various whales and porpoises described in the book would be. The descriptions of the whaling itself does get quite graphic so not a book for the faint hearted; there is a detailed description of how the crew prepares a whale carcass, complete with anatomical explanations on the stripping, slicing and dicing.
Though not a very long book by some standards, it is one that nonetheless feels long and at points it was hard to get through some of the language in the more technical passages. On days where I didn’t quite have the patience to deal with Melville’s back and forth, I did find myself mentally hurrying the narrator on in the same way one might hurry an elderly relative.