I said I would do it. And do it I did. I listened to the very end of the 18th disc of the apparently unabridged Moby Dick. I would not entirely claim to have remained conscious for the whole of it, however…
The reading did show up some of the limitations of audio formats, and for me I think the main problem is that it is impossible to control or vary the pace. Reading a text, one can skim, or slow down and savour, or skip like a stone across the surface. In the cinema, it is true, one must proceed with the director’s gait, but when did you last see a film 21 hours long? And with home video, it is possible to fast forward through less congenial sections and, as the protagonists gallop across the screen, still be aware of the plot development and when to start paying proper attention again. But it just doesn’t work with a spoken word book.
All that said, I am quite pleased to have finally got some sort of grip on one of those novels I’ve spent many years not getting around to. Many of the chapters were highly digressive, and others partook of the shaggy dog. I particularly noted chapters about the peculiar significations of the colour white, and about the phrenology of whales. The latter, Ishmael admits, is difficult because a) they do not have faces b) do not have noses and c) have brains so deeply buried that the bumps on the surface of their heads bear no relation to the projections of intellect, magnanimity etc. within. Nevertheless, he takes a crack at the subject. In view of this, I feel empowered to deliver a judgement: Moby Dick is, on the whole, a portentous Tristram Shandy with added cetaceans.
While listening, I have knitted, and run some more experiments with the hand-building clay. Don’t think it is my style really, and not sure about this one at all: