Herman Melville's Moby Dick, first published on 14 November 1851, is a whale of a book...
Tony Fomison, Captain Ahab, Peg Legged Hunter of the White Whale, oil on canvas board, 1981. Presented to the Gallery by Mr Peter Wells, 1984.
...and though it starts off grippingly, and is, overall, stunningly well written, it never quite becomes a page turner. Although the book's protagonist Ishmael tells a profoundly vivid adventure story, his 'action chapters' are interrupted or supported by a greater proportion of chapters that seek to divest his generously encyclopaedic whaling knowledge. The book is large and it's all fascinating stuff - there are a great many wonderful passages and much to learn about the early nineteenth century experience of whaling, whales, whaling history, whaling ships, etc. It's brilliant, weighty and philosophical in many ways, and even cautionary in parts that seem too aware of the potential for whaling to lead to the extraordinary creature's ultimate demise. For a present day reader it also reinforces the thought that present-day 'scientific' whaling by Japan and others is thoroughly antiquated and barbaric.
The holiday has ended and although the book is not finished, I am close to the end. Like the Pequod's Captain Ahab (painted so exquisitely in 1981 by Tony Fomison), I also haven't yet encountered his nemesis, the dreaded white whale Moby Dick, but I know that he is coming. And that the end isn't looking good.
[Footnote: thanks to Paul Johns for discussions relating to his annual, ongoing anti-whaling artist project, the starting inspiration for heading for the hills with this book over the New Year break.]