December 25, 2011

Typee by Herman Melville

Herman Melville tells a somewhat autobiographical tale in this story about time spent among cannibals in the South Seas. Somewhat autobiographical because there is a lot of fictional elements to this story.

After ditching a ship run by a mad captain, our main character finds himself on an island with only one other person as they go through the jungle trying to survive on what little food they grabbed. When at last they find a tribe of the island, they are both wary and overjoyed. Because he has an injury, he is unable to leave with the friend and instead is left to the friendly hands of the natives, who really don't want him to leave anyway. So much so that they hold him as a very comfortable hostage. While recuperating from his injury he observes their life and how carefree it is and admires them as a people.

While some elements of this book are autobiographical, I do have to say that Melville really isn't as interesting as the natives think he is. He is injured for the vast majority of the time so I'm surprised he held such a fascination to them. The natives were mostly fairly described and in fact compared favorably to his English brethren, which is a surprise considering the time it was written. I think the most derogatory thing that he wrote was that they seemed to like to be lazy, but would work when needed to. Compared to how he made fun of the English, its actually pretty interesting what he thinks of them.

While Melville has a lyrical way of writing, I found this book to be very tedious. Yes there were beautiful descriptions of the island and its people that made it seem a very desirable place, but these were repeated over and over and over. I stopped caring about breadfruit around the fifth time it was described and some of the other repetitions grew old after the second go around. I just wish he had branched out a bit in his descriptions. I did find some of his adventures interesting but he describes these incidents far and few between.

Definitely not one of the better books I've read in awhile. I know it's a classic, but so much more could have been done with it.

Copyright 1846
260 pages

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