Read Dates: Philip Hoare and Ishmael

This month our blog theme is ‘Love in All its Forms’ – we’re celebrating the diverse ways in which love is depicted in literature – so we asked our authors to tell us who their dream fictional date would be. Philip Hoare unhesitatingly chose Ishmael, the able-bodied seaman who narrates Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’…


‘Suicidal, obsessed with whales, philosophical, dreamy and destined to accompany his captain’s monomaniacal pursuit of the mythic, shape-shifting Moby Dick, Ishmael, the anti-heroic, unreliable narrator of Herman Melville’s novel is my dream date. (Even if he can’t make up his mind if that’s really his name or not). Our destination: that ship of fools, the Pequod, bound for the Line – the earth’s waisted Equator.

It would be an adventurous outing, to say the least. There’d be all that bloody blubber to deal with, as well as our own angst. Our hands might meet in a vat of oleaginous spermaceti oil, squeezing out the lumps over longing sidelong glances. Would it be love at first sight? Or would my rival Queequeg’s head-to-toe tats covering his unholy bones win out over my puny white Anglo-Saxon flesh? I mean, I know that Ishmael and the Noble Savage shared a bed and got married even before the voyage got under weigh, but things are different at sea, aren’t they?  I’m not good on heights, though, so those dozy afternoons spent in the crow’s nest scanning the horizon for spouts might not be much fun. But I’d definitely be up for a spot of South Seas skinny-dipping, while Ahab’s lightning-scarred eye was turned.

There’d be a lot of talking, that’s for sure, especially about cetaceans. Ishmael is the kind of guy who swims through libraries in search of leviathans; he’s a regular whalehead. The dude even had the measurements of that Arscadean specimen tattooed on his fore arm. Of course, things would get a little dark, to say the least, what with the captain springing that secret crew of Fedallah’s evil bunch on us, and all that waving about of liquor-filled harpoon-stumps, promises of Spanish doubloons and death-to-Moby-Dick stuff.

But you know, even at the end – spoiler alert – when it all goes belly-up, I reckon that if I stuck close to my man, there’d be room on that floating coffin/lifebuoy for me, and we’d sail off into the sunset, while in the distance, the great White Whale spouted his frothed defiance to the skies. It’s a win-win situation. Now, what’s his number again? Call me, Ishmael?’

Philip Hoare is the author of ‘Leviathan or, The Whale’ and ‘The Sea Inside’.  He’s co-curator, with Angela Cockayne, of the Moby-Dick Big Read.

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