Moby, without the Dicks
Jenny Diski · 'Or, The Whale'
'What makes Melville Melville is digression, texture, and weirdness,' says Damion Searls. No, said Orion Books in 2007, all that extraneous business just gets in the way of the story arc. Without all that whale stuff, you could make a readable book. Hey, maybe someone could make an action movie.
The result was Moby Dick in Half the Time (which you can buy in a bargain bundle at Amazon with Vanity Fair in Half the Time and Anna Karenina in Half the Time). 'All Dick and no Moby,' said Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker. Moby Dick is the novel you read to see what novels can be, and for delight.
There's a touch of Pierre Menard about Searls's Or, The Whale. Instead of re-creating Don Quixote line for line in its 17th-century Spanish original – a perfect translation – the non-fictional Searls has produced the missing Moby, and created a second subsidiary text made of every chapter, word and punctuation mark that Orion cut out, all in the right order. Now what we need is a third book to be published that puts both texts together...