Review of “Moby Dick” (on CD) by Herman Melville, Narrated by Frank Muller

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Call me impressed. The blurb on the jacket of this audio book calls it a “breathtaking masterwork,” but actually, it’s better than that! It is an epic and staggering tale every bit as big as its subject matter–the largest of all living creatures and the edacious, relentless men who hunt and kill them.

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Melville’s language is grandiloquent and a bit archaic, almost like the King James Bible. Although some might find that pretentious, I think it works in its context. My experience of the book may even have been enhanced by listening to it rather than reading it: the language is so elevated that, like a Shakespearian play, it is more moving when heard than when read. Melville says somewhere near the end of the book that one should write big stories about big subject matters, not about small things. And indeed, this book is not about mice or fleas; it is about whales and whaling.

Moby Dick was first published in 1851. The plot is familiar to most; beginning with the first sentence “Call me Ishmael” to the obsessed quest by Captain Ahab on the whaleship Pequod to catch and kill the whale that severed his leg, this story has been swimming through the culture in every medium from music to movies (including adaptations like “Jaws) and television.

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Melville can be forgiven for utilizing a sprinkling of omens and preternaturally prescient shamans, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s witches, to create a foreboding atmosphere. His characters were superstitious and would have attributed such portentousness to ordinary coincidences. And what wonderful characters they are! Dickens himself would have been proud to have limned them, especially the “pagan savages,” the harpooners named Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo, and Fedallah.

This is not just a novel. It is also an encyclopedic treatise on the subject of whales and whaling, relating not only what scientists of the time knew, but also much of the lore (obviously exaggerated, but in many ways more interesting than the truth) prevalent in the fishery.

In the performance to which I listened (“Unabridged Classics” on 18 CDs), Frank Muller did a superb job of mastering accents and employing different voices for different characters. This book sets a very high standard for other fiction. It deserves its rating as one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Rating: 5/5

Audiobook published unabridged by Recorded Books, 2008 on 18 CDs (21 hours and 20 minutes)

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About rhapsodyinbooks

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12 Responses to Review of “Moby Dick” (on CD) by Herman Melville, Narrated by Frank Muller

  1. Nicole says:

    I can see how Moby Dick would be better as an audiobook. You make it sound so fascinating, but I am still rather afraid to try it.

  2. BooksPlease says:

    I’ve never read this and actually I don’t know the story either. Maybe I should try it.

  3. Lenore says:

    I remember attempting to read this in high school and getting bogged down by sentences that went on for 2 pages or more. I think I might have tried to diagram one of them 😉

  4. Frankly, I’ve always rather thought of it as a “guy” book. But my husband has gushed over it so much (and he is usually one to eschew fiction) that I too intend to listen to the tapes.

  5. Margot says:

    You make this sound so good. I never thought about how the book has influenced so many other media. I agree that this is probably a good choice to listen to the book on cd.

  6. Shona says:

    I have loved Moby Dick when I read it in schooldays I guess I ll get the audiobook this time for a change.

  7. Gwen Dawson says:

    Great review! My American Lit class is reading Moby Dick this fall, so I’m thrilled to hear there’s a good audio version available. I love to read a book and then follow that up with listening to the audio version. I always discover new things about the text that way.

  8. bermudaonion says:

    This sounds like a great way to catch up on some old classics. I’ve never read Moby Dick.

  9. Alyce says:

    Maybe listening to it on audio would make it more enjoyable for me. I just remember being bored out of my mind in high school when we read this. It didn’t help that my teacher for that book (normally a history teacher, but brought into our class specifically to teach that book because he loved it so much) had a monotone voice that was just as bad as that teacher on Ferris Bueller.

  10. Wisteria says:

    Your review is astounding and makes me want to go and get the audio version ASAP. I am doing a grad paper on whaling in the 1800s and I would love the background schema. I have read so many secondary sources already, but this one sounds like a keeper.
    Thanks!
    Wisteria

  11. Marie says:

    Nice. great review. Love seeing classic lit get its due! 🙂

  12. Eva says:

    I listened to about half of this when I was painting my niece’s room last summer and loved it. Of course, then my laptop died, and I lost the file. :/ You reminded me that I need to go search it out!

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