Whale of a time

I’m enjoying an occasional dip with Moby Dick, courtesy of a great project by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare. Moby Dick: Big Read presents an online version of Melville’s book, with each chapter read aloud and accompanied by a painting, drawing or photograph. Some of the readers you might recognise (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, China Miéville), others are simply enthusiasts for the book.

I thought the diversity of voices might be a distraction, but it adds colour. My old friend James Woudhuysen makes fine work of chapter 24, The Advocate. Will Self brings alive The Whiteness of the Whale. There’s even a decent reading by the Prime Minister – The Pipe.

This project is an example of the ways in which digital media and the Web are enriching culture, rather than dumbing us down (more on that here). Re-presenting an important, wonderful, demanding and sometimes neglected book in this way will attract new readers; those who already know it may enjoy a fresh expression of Melville’s prose. Right now I’m dipping in randomly, taking each chapter as a piece on its own. But I might go back and listen to the leviathanic text in order, from nose to tail. The project also reminded me to watch again the John Huston/Ray Bradbury film version of 1956. Others might prefer to simply wander through the art, the voices as a background. Whatever floats your boat.


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