Moby-Dick Big Read launches at Plymouth International Book Festival

By Ruth Hazard | 14 September 2012
  • Archived article
Sean Landers' illustration is part of a series of new Moby-Dick inspired artworks created as part of the Big Read project© Sean Landers. Photo: Jason Mandella, courtesy the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
Moby-Dick is one of those novels that everyone has heard of but very few have actually read.

Luckily, Dr Philip Hoare and Angela Cockayne have spent the past two years toiling away on a project that hopes to make the classic 19th century novel accessible to today’s digital generation.

The pair have worked on producing a series of audio recordings retelling Herman Melville’s masterpiece, using a host of actors, presenters and musicians as the story’s narrators.

The Moby-Dick Big Read project will launch at the Plymouth International Book Festival on September 16, with recordings then made available for free online.

Highlights include Sir David Attenborough’s recording of Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? - Will He Perish?, Stephen Fry in bed with the tattooed Queequeg, Benedict Cumberbatch musing on krill and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rick Stein on how to eat a whale.

The cast, reading a total of 136 chapters, also includes community leaders and young people. It is hoped the project will win over a new legion of Moby-Dick fans, captivated by Ishmael’s tales of skulduggery at sea.

“This is a way of introducing it to a new audience and is something people can pick up as and when they choose – it is completely suited to the digital age,” says Hoare.

Simon Callow will kick off the reading at Plymouth International Book Festival, with his utterings of the novel’s famous prose taking place before a live audience.

The first chapter of the book, read by Tilda Swinton, will appear online the following day, with a new chapter being released daily thereafter.

A series of new art works have also been created to accompany the readings, with Anish Kapoor, Mark Wallinger, George Shaw and Antony Gormley offering contributions to the project.

It includes Moby-Dick inspired paintings, installations, sculptures, music and feature films, which can be seen as part of the book festival event. 

The Big Read is also hoping to raise awareness of the current threats to marine life. Donations are being welcomed in aid of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

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