It's one of those "great books" that many seem to be convinced you cannot both understand and dislike. I can't remember the number of discussions with fans I've had that always begin along the lines of "Well you just have to understand the symbolism and the sly characterization and then you'll like it".
I do. I still don't.
It's not the turgid prose that does it for me. I'm a big fan of Dickens' better stuff, and read more mid 19th Century books than those of any other period. Hell, Dombey and Son takes a few pages to describe a doorway and it works well. It is instead the utterly wasted and aimless structure of much of Melville's book. I suspect it would make a fine 80 page novella. Long books are fine when they need to be long. Middlemarch springs to mind. Moby Dick certainly doesn't qualify. You can get all the symbolism and characterization you want without making 70% of your work double as an intermediate level technical whaling manual.
The only other "great book" I know of that has this built-in pretentiousness among its fan base that only ignorance prevents worship is another one I dislike - Ulysses. Yes yes I get the different structure of each of the chapters symbolizing different parts of the Odyssey as much as the story itself. Yes yes I get the cultural archetypes. It just doesn't work as a book except as a comp. lit. student's idea of mental masturbation.
And I know damn well 90% of either's fans are saying to themselves, and quite likely me too eventually, "well you just don't REALLY understand it", and that's the problem (the attitude, not my understanding; it's certain many people have deeper knowledge of these works than I do, but it's also certain many fans have a much lesser grasp than I too). It's somehow OK not to like the way Proust or Flaubert or Hardy or Lawrence or Nabokov or Rushdie writes. It's even OK not to like other Melville or Joyce works. For some reason though the general consensus of way too high a percentage of real or self-declared literature experts to be genuinely organic is that only hapless Grisham fans dislike those two. It's like a self-perpetuating "badge" of literacy to brook no criticism of them.
But then again I am a devoted fan of Shakespeare who ranks Hamlet as a middling to weak example of his efforts. Strangely though I'm not generally speaking an iconoclast or contrarian arbiter of literature. I agree Barnaby Rudge is Dickens mailing it in and Little Dorrit is him overdosing on saccharin - very normal views. I agree Milton - an epic poet unequalled in his millenium - couldn't write a sonnet worth a groat, another typical view. Midnight's Children really is Rushdie's best. Wodehouse never really did match Jeeves and Wooster in other stories. I just can't stomach the received wisdom of Orthodox Opinion on Dick, Leo and the Dithering Dane.