It’s odd that people who read Moby Dick don’t go on to find out more about Herman Melville; but that was his fate in his lifetime too.  In fact, after achieving a supersonic literary success in the late 1840s, Herman Melville's popularity declined in the 1850s and never recovered.

Worse, when he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten and even the 20th Century revival only dropped Moby Dick and Billy Budd into our must-read lists, and pretty much ignored the other great titles, such as my favourite, The Confidence Man.

Melville was a mighty writer, a visionary in prose, without doubt the novelistic Walt Whitman. The Confidence Man is a crazy and beautiful book, a high Modern prose highlight and ahead of its time, as considered and poetic as Joyce later became.

In light of all these masterworks, Redburn may seem lightweight but it is not. It’s true that 19th Century fiction is ponderous and wordy, but reading Herman Melville is genuinely good for you.

Compared to his contemporaries then, Melville’s style was spare and more direct, presumably the result of his attempts to achieve financial success after the critical and financial drubbing he received for Mardi, the novel that preceded it.

I have always loved Redburn for this mixture of direct description and action, combined with the experimental and poetic detail Melville is admired for in Moby Dick. People in 19th Century Liverpool are described as being ‘as numerous as maggot in cheese’ and the lists and details are without doubt 20th Century in style and aspiration. Melville liked to affect a cultivated air of universal know-how – hence the fact that in the Penguin edition of Moby Dick, the editor’s notes take up as much space as the book text itself; but the universal know-how is contemporary to us indeed, so every year I expect another Melville comeback that never happens. He’s like an Internet the stuff that his writing throws up, endless in detail, matter of factual, and wide in his references.

So Redburn is an epic volume and a most agreeable one. One can always dip into Redburn, and chase through a few of the scenes on board or on the docks, consider the brilliance of the action and if you’re so inkling, just wallow in that prose.

‘Clutching our reef-points, we hung over the stick, and gazed down to the one white bubbling spot, which had closed over the head of our shipmate; but the next minute it was brewed into the common yeast of the waves, and Jackson never arose.’