Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Chasing the White Whale

I managed to slay the lesser of my figurative reading white whales this weekend, and to resume combat with the other.

I had commented to someone during the week that it had been a while since I had finished a novel, and they had pointed out that a three week break (it might have been four) was hardly a drought, especially given that the material in question was far from the easiest.

Anyway, I finished Moby Dick this week. I'm glad to now be able to say I've read it, given its significance in the western canon, but I can't say its one of my favourite books. The first sentence, "Call me Ishmael", is grossly misleading in its simplicity. The writing style thereafter gets quite overwrought. Still, I didn't mind that so much while the narrative was advancing. Unfortunately for me, the book spends quite a significant portion of its length in discourse on the nature and history of the whale and those who hunt it. I can't say I was fascinated by this, and often wished we could get back to the story. Indeed, our protagonists don't actually sight the storied white whale until about 90% into the book, from which point everything happens in a very great rush before finishing. I suspect a contemporary editor would have very stern things to say about Melville's pacing.

Having finished with cetaceans for the time being, I've returned to weightier prey, in the form Le Comte de Monte Cristo (en francais). I made good progress on this before heading overseas, finishing off tome 1 (of 4), and resuming it yesterday reminded me that it isn't nearly as daunting as the first chapters, or its impressive size, would suggest. I'll say this, too: being such a long book, the narrative structure is much less predictable to the reader. With other books I get an idea of how, or at least at what pace, things are going to progress, but I really don't have that feeling with this book. With so many pages left, I really don't have a grasp of where the story arcs will go, and that's kind of pleasant. I don't pretend that this burst of activity will go right through to the end of the book (I had to take a break yesterday when I tired, to read some bush poetry), but I do maintain my hopes of getting through it some time this year.

No comments: