Peaks and troughs abound in this one. At times, I found myself deeply engaged by Melville's ruminations on metaphysics, religion, and politics--mainly through his philosopher character Babbalanja--yet at others, I was inclined to either nod off at best, or tear the book to pieces at worst. These latter paroxysms, which, regrettably, occurred far too often, were brought on by the following:
- The lack of any sort of compelling plot to drive the narrative forward. While I wasn't expecting a thriller or detective novel, I don't think it's unfair to desire some sort of plot to move things along. The first 150 pages or so contained such a plot. It was by no means a fast-moving one, but it was interesting and developed organically nonetheless. However, about 500 pages of island hopping was all that followed, interspersed with small pockets of genius.
- Characters weren't developed very much, if at all. Any changes described were rushed in at the end, instead of evolving throughout their wanderings. They were also quite flat; the philosopher philosophized, the minstrel sang songs, the demigod king...well, he did little but condescend his socially inferior yet intellectually superior shipmates.
- The prose was a bit too bombastic at times. There is a large stylistic jump between Omoo
, in my opinion. The former wasn't as rich as the prose in Melville's masterpiece Moby-Dick
, while Mardi
was overly florid. Thankfully, by the time of his magnum opus, Melville found a healthy medium somewhere between austerity and lavishness.
- The Elizabethan English and suspect worldly erudition of the islanders. The people of this fictional archipelago of Mardi were supposed to have been unmolested by prodding European sailors; this was how the narrator was able to pass himself off as a god, instead of one who stole a boat from his ship's captain and made off in the night--which is what he really was. They lived in a society undeveloped, by Western estimations, at least. It was because of this this that I would find it hard to believe that they would have knowledge of European history, fauna of other continents, etc.--things that they indeed felt comfortable discoursing on. I'm not sure how Melville thought that these people living in the middle of an "undiscovered" Polynesian island would become so well-read.
All in all, Mardi
was filled with some moments of coruscation, and many more moments of dullness, masturbatory oratory, unpleasantly thick prose, and aimlessness. I think the star rating I've given it is more than fair, and to be honest, I may be giving the emperor more credit than he rightly deserves in regards to his garments. If this book were written by an author of less renown and fascination to me, I likely wouldn't have been so generous. I'm willing to admit that fault.