Natalie Plahuta’s Book Review of “Pierre, or The Ambiguities” by Herman Melville

Herman Melville’s Pierre, or The Ambiguities is both too slow and too fast all at once. There are times when Melville uses twenty pages to describe a rock, but the entire conclusion spans less than ten measly pages. Due to Melville’s many random asides, which hold no greater significance in the story, the book spans 427 pages, when only 150 of those pages were necessary, possibly 200 if I’m being generous. Due to the book’s length, it is obviously not meant to be read in one sitting. In fact, it shouldn’t be read at all. This is the type of book that you put on your shelf as an ornament to make yourself look smarter. In fact, you must be a genius if you read Pierre and understood all of Melville’s philosophical madness, since it doesn’t make any goddamn sense, so keeping the book on your shelf would certainly make you look smarter…or insane.

Furthermore, the hero of the novel is not likeable. He is naive and meek, and despite the fact that he is portrayed to be a boy genius, he makes very unsound decisions. For example, if you had an illegitimate sister whom you wanted to care for, but could not tell your mother, would your solution be to marry her? No! I should think not! Would you then tell your mother about this shotgun wedding, knowing that she would disapprove, without having a backup plan or substantial savings in the very likely instance that she kicks you out of her house? I would sure hope not! It is not even until the last chapter of the novel that Pierre finally begins to doubt the validity of Isabel’s story. On top of an unappealing protagonist, there does not seem to be a clear moral of the novel, other than “don’t marry your sister,” which should have been obvious. Bravo, Melville! You really outdid yourself on that one!

One part of the book that would have been entertaining for its satire, if not written by Melville, is the part in which Melville describes how rapidly print media was expanding and how anyone could become either an author or a publisher. Melville includes a satirical advertisement by a former tailor which states that their fabrics, excuse me, bindings are the best in town, also including some other phrases to express how analogous clothing and books are. This part of the book does an excellent job of expressing the free for all that was print media during Melville’s time. However, since the book was written by Melville, the satire spans approximately 125 pages, despite the fact that print media is not the central plot or focus of the novel. Therefore, Melville’s rant mid-book seems like a tantrum thrown in response to the bad reviews he received for Moby Dick.

Many critics of Melville’s time thought he was crazy when he wrote Pierre. If so, then his insanity is contagious, as reading this book nearly drove me insane. Trust me, SparkNotes will be a better friend to you than this book.