Review of Pierre; or the Ambiguities- E.N.

“There are some strange summer mornings in the country…” (Melville, 1)

Well, no duh Pierre. Every morning is a strange morning when you call your mother your sister and have an oddly close relationship with her that’s not characteristic of a mother-son or sister-brother dynamic in any way, shape, or form.

I wish I could say that I liked Pierre because it was written by such a renowned American author, but honestly, it was a struggle to get through it. The novel consists of page after page of insane ramblings sprinkled with philosophical questioning and debate. Pierre is a spoiled brat with incestuous tendencies that make it quite difficult for me to pity him, even when he’s disowned by his family, sent to the city penniless, and forced to live with a weird cult in the city.

The title of this book shouldn’t be “Pierre; or the Ambiguities”. It should be “Pierre; or the Village Idiot”. What kind of person thinks the solution to all of their problems is to marry their illegitimate sister? On the (only) upside, the language of the novel is beautiful. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to make me enjoy the novel. It’s like Melville thought “Hmm, this is a good sentence. Here’s another good sentence. Let me write for pages and pages about emotions that don’t really relate that much to the plot line because they sound really good”. You get a few good classic Melville sentences here and there, but you really have to look for them, and frankly, it’s not worth the effort. Melville’s use of free indirect discourse is quite sophisticated, dipping into the psyche of Pierre and revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. It’s a shame that this technique is wasted on the convoluted ponderings of Pierre’s mind. He finds depth in a tower of rocks in the wood, yet he fails to see the problematic moral dilemma of marrying his sister.

If you want to tumble deep down a rabbit hole of incest, fainting, gasping, sitting in trees, dreaming about rocks, and screaming at sewing circles: well, this is the book for you! Enjoy!

Beginning lines of the book taken from: