Thursday, 28 March 2013

Moby Dick

Moby Dick was my own white whale(I am sure a million others have used this). Only in this case, I did conquer it.

Some time in 2011, I had gone to this second hand book store in some random street of Chennai and procured the book for a measly 15 rupees. It was around the time I had actually started reading good fiction, and I got this only because of all the "Call me Ishmael" references  and the fact that I got it cheap. I didn't give it much thought after that.

Sometime in the beginning of last year, I picked it up and seeking motivation to read the book, read the cover. It read thus -
Don't you buy it – don't you read it, when it does come out, because it is by no means the sort of book for you. It is not a piece of fine Spitalfields silk – but is of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hausers. A Polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it. Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book – on risk of a lumbago & sciatica.
Sold!

To be completely honest, I started reading this book multiple times. I found it particularly hard to get used to his language and writing style. It was something I have never encountered before. What frustrated me the most was it would be a gripping book, I would spend around 2 hours on it and not notice that time flew by, only to find I had read around 40 pages. I attempted reading it sometime during my internship last summer, then again during the semester, and again during the winter. I read some 7 or 8 books in the meantime but was never able to make progress with this book. Let me put it this way, if you thought Lord of the Rings or Charles Dickens was descriptive, you wouldn't call this fiction.  For most part, the author digresses into long academic commentary on biblical subjects, whale genealogy and the various aspects of whaling. At times, this level of descriptiveness tempts the reader to skip the chapters and I had to force myself to diligently read every line so that I wouldn't skip to the chapters where the story progresses.

<mild spoiler alert>
In spite of all that Melville makes up for it by putting you on the scene and taking you awhaling on a trip that is as much his, yours as it is Ishmael's or Ahab's. Be it the scene where Ishmael stands atop the mast head and exclaims about the tranquility or the scene where Ahab talks to the other captain who lost his hand to the whale and loses his temper, Melville manages to put you in the exact same mindset. You end up being one of the crew. You get goosebumps when Ahab talks about the Moby Dick and asks you to swear to kill it. You feel the thrill when someone yells "There she blows!" from the masthead. You sing in joy with Stubb, you be mature and reasonable with Starbuck. You feel the fear when ship after ship talks of the horror that is the white whale and you feel the anger when the captain of Rachael laments for his lost son and the adrenaline when Ahab orders the ship to charge after the whale in pursuit.
</mild spoiler alert>

A few of my favorite quotes from the book that I wrote down as I read the book.
Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.
There are some enterprises in which careful disorderliness is the true method.
Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary.
... for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men .

 PS: There was this easter egg in the book that I absolutely have to mention. The following is from Chapter 96.
It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in precisely the same time.
PPS: One of the 7 or 8 books I read during the period was 1984, which, so far, I consider the best, scariest and most depressing book I've come across. I won't ask you to read it for I can't ask anyone that when it comes to 1984, but will leave you with a everyone must read 1984.

PPPS: Oh and Amrutha, this superawesome friend of mine, gifted me "100 hundred years of solitude"!! :D:D Next up.

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