The novel begins a little offbeat, with the protagonist (Bradbury, more or less) landing in Ireland and entering into a bizarre exchange, heavy on the philosophy, with an Irish customs officer. His purposes made explicit, to write the screenplay for MOBY DICK and study the Irish character, the first-person narrator lurches off into his self-inflicted adventure with the help of a good sense of humor and an open mind.
He meets the Irish first at a country pub filled with good cheer and hearty introductions. The event of a momentous bicycle collision and its aftermath serves as the narrator’s introduction to the different way in which his Irish companions perceive things.
Next he encounters his director, an undisguised John Huston, whose constant need to intimidate everyone is stressful to Huston’s wife, Ricki. Huston’s antics in the Irish countryside include persuading an engaged couple from America to come to Ireland to seal their marriage at a “hunt wedding.” This event becomes a glorious disaster which the guests salvage only by the challenge of obtaining more of the good champagne than the bad.
The writer agonizes over the elusive whale, eventually learns to stand up to the director, and falls in love with the Irish in all their fine madness.
Fans of Bradbury will find the seeds of many familiar stories in this account. Although surprisingly little is included about the writing of the screenplay, ultimately the whale is conquered in a semi-mystical visitation by the spirit of Herman Melville.
Though it has its dark moments, the novel is mainly a hilarious romp through Dublin. Some familiarity with the film eventually brought to the screen is helpful, but not essential.