Sunday 24 June 2012

Moby Duck - book review

Moby Duck
by Donovan Hohn

Like the subject matter of the book, this 400 page hardback washed up on my reading pile almost by accident.

Our recent visit to Lyme Regis included a stay in a B&B which was in a bookshop. In fact, it was so "in" the bookshop that the walls of the rooms were lined with the stock! It was therefore probably inevitable that I would chance on something which caught my eye and became obligated to make a purchase.

And so I came across Moby Duck, a first book by Donovan Hohn which whimsically follows the fate of 28,800 floatees (25% of which were plastic ducks) from the Pacific where there were lost from a ship in a storm in 1992, to wherever the wind and the tides took them.

To add a further layer of personal interest, the book links into Melville's Moby Dick and so into the travails of my alter ego, Capt Ahab.

The book starts with a schoolteacher reading of the odyssey of a flotilla of bath toys which bob their way round the Pacific and, after a number of years, turn up in the most unlikely places. There were reports that examples had made it through the pack ice of the North West passage and been found in Maine - could this really be true? Hohn devoted five years of his life to the quest of the missing ducks.

Like the currents which bore them, the book charts Hohn's whimsy. Using the passage of the Floates as a core thread he lets his curiosity lead him. At times it is a narrative of his various expeditions and at others a meticulous account of the things he discovers along the way. The book dives into waterborne waste, the properties of PVC, international shipping, economics of toy manufature, oceanic currents, global warming and even alcoholism among the Inuit Indians. Some tangents are more interesting than others, but  all lines of enquiry eventually return to the theme of those cheeky yellow ducks and how far they may have spread.

The book both informs and entertains, but perhaps more of the former. It is grand in its scope but erratic in its whimsy. It certainly supports my guiding principle that if something interests you, go with it - set your curiosity free and see what shore you find yourself washed up on.

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