I'm having one of those creepy reading confluences. Not ten minutes after I posted about Monique Roffey's Archipelago and the way it riffs off the themes and events of Moby Dick, I read an article online about a new project: the Moby Dick Big Read. Since the 16th September, and for the next three months, the project team will be posting a chapter-by-chapter audiobook of the novel, recorded by actors, politicians and ordinary readers. Even David Cameron will be taking part. Accompanying each chapter is original artwork inspired by the story.
I took this as a clear sign from the reading gods that it's time to bring some Melville into my life and so I've been downloading and listening to the installments each morning as I walk to work. The readers are varied in style and effectiveness so far. The first chapter is read beautifully by Tilda Swinton. I could have listened to her all day - she really draws out the mellifluous rhythm of the prose and was definitely the right person to hook me in (especially as yesterday and today's readers haven't quite stood up to her standard). The surprise has been Melville's mix of dry wit, meaty description and spiritual insight. Ishmael is philosophical and farcical by turns, and completely daft in a way I didn't expect. The bit in Chapter 3 where he attempts to go to sleep on a bench rather than share a bed at the Spouter Inn with another sailor is on the verge of laugh-out-loud-and-look-odd-in-the-street. I'm definitely going to keep listening.
Here is Tilda Swinton's opening reading, if you'd like to give it a go: