America’s revenge on Britain
Posted January 19, 2013on:
I suppose lacking the voluminous literary heritage of England, Americans tend to latch onto any big book as a possible contender for the Great American Novel that they are always desperately seeking. It helps its chances if the book is also indigestible. That way the Brits are unlikely to read it and challenge its literary supremacy.
Hence, I suppose, the lasting appeal of Moby Dick. Who is going to read it in this day and age? Its supremacy is assured for all time.
I like to plunge into its yawning depths and immerse myself in the great shroud of its frothing prose as an antidote to Twitter. It’s fun to read it in Starbucks, especially now we have freezing fog in London and treacherous ice on the streets. America, what have you given to Britain? You’ve closed all their bookshops thanks to Amazon. You’ve replaced all their pubs with coffee shops. You’ve doomed them to a high street without record shops thanks to Apple and iTunes. You suck up all their spare cash into your great maw and you construct labyrinthine corporate shelters to avoid paying any tax in the UK. It’s genius. What sweet revenge for the all the wrongs inflicted on you by Mad King George.
But you’ve at least given them Moby Dick, a seething epic that teaches them not to go chasing after phantoms and break their necks on a brick wall. Good advice, incidentally, to anyone who feels they ought to read this novel but is put off by its sheer bulk. It is a whale of a book and you chase it down at your peril.
I do wonder where the female characters are. Ishmael clinging to Queequeg’s coffin to avoid a watery doom is about as close as we get to a love story.
But it’s a wicked book. Wicked and wild. I like to think the great white whale is a metaphor for all of us women giving men the run around: the fathomless mask of the unknown but still reasoning vortex at the heart of men’s tragically turbulent universe.