What a struggle. And I don't mean with Ahab and the whale ; I mean trying to finish the novel.
This is certainly a classic, iconic tale and I think the concept behind the story is wonderful: obsessive captain tries to hunt down the elusive, near-mythical white whale that once took his leg.
The problem, sadly, lies in the fact that the novel is way too long-winded and at times detracts from the story altogether which, for myself and I imagine many others, was what was most interesting and compelling. By all means give me chapters exploring the character's motivations and the turmoil on the ship; don't give me whole chapters devoted to the anatomy of the whale, a chapter exploring the tale of Jonah in the Bible, the mechanics of various parts of the ship etc. It was very frustrating to me to have to deal with all these various tangents.
Aside from that obvious issue, I also found that the dialogue was tiresome. It's like Shakespeare meets Blackbeard at points. Many characters seem quite wooden and one-dimensional too. The red indian, the 'negro savage', Ahab the greedy, doubloon-peddling capitalist and so on. I get that there are themes exploring the America of the time at work here but they could have been explored with a bit more attention and care in my opinion.
I'm sure the novel will have its fans and many will point to the themes at the heart of the novel as being of great significance. They may be, but the novel is very unsatisfying at several points.
The novel however is not without merit. The actual chase of the whale is compelling. If the novel had centred on this more and cut out a lof of the technical aspects I would have rated it a lot higher. It feels like the novel finishes very strongly. There is a chapter called 'The Symphony' near the end which I found particularly touching. The climax to the story is also interesting.
I would say the actual iconic aspect - the idea of the white whale roaming the seas and the desperate hunt to catch him - I suspect this is what has helped the story endure in the public mindset most of all. To use an apt metaphor, the idea itself is the hook ; the bait.
I wouldn't recommend the novel though unless one has a desire to experience Melville's actual take on the story.