ah, Billy Budd! didn't get through that for some reason.
i've noticed that novellas are hard for me to finish unless i am totally gripped by the story. maybe because i feel i've got no skin in the game with a short book.
Saw this book on the NYT's 'Books of the Year' list and thought it might be an interesting read for those who love/loathe 'Moby Dick':
'The north water is where the whales are, and this novel is about the dying days of Hullís whaling industry, in the late 1850s. Paraffin and coal oil are replacing whale oil, threatening ruin to shipowners who have invested heavily in their fleets. Only the most agile or ruthless will survive, even though there are still whales to be hunted.
The story opens violently. Henry Drax, a harpooner, has signed on for a six-month voyage on a Greenland whaler, the Volunteer, which is presently being trimmed and packed in harbour. Drax is a brute, a vacuum into which men and boys are sucked and do not emerge alive. Within the first 12 pages he has killed a Shetlander who has crossed him in a bar. Next he beats unconscious and rapes a young boy whom he suspects of leading him into a trap. Before doing this he says to the child: ďIím the fucker, me, Iím never the one thatís fucked.Ē Drax joins his ship, and itís clear that if he has anything to do with it, the Volunteer is already marked for trouble.'