Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
There are a lot of fascinating things in this book: reflections on the nature of civilization, religion, obsession. A lot of it is surprisingly nuanced for a mid nineteenth century account, and delivers a story with a lot more ambiguity than I was expected. Unfrotunately, none of those are the central focus of the book, the essence of the authorial intent. That main intent is focused on providing an array of facts on whales and whaling. This element really grinds down the conventional story, both in the sheer length given the minutia of detail and the stalling of momentum the back and forth goes.
It's interesting to read this work in the light of hard science fiction, which similarly often carries huge amounts of exposition and background setting. I'm not sure if I can hold this piece as objectively more flawed because it's talking about details I'm not interested in, but at the end of the day I'm not terribly interested in whales, and feel the author went too far into his own specific interests in representation. That gives the book a strange kind of meta element to the Ahab obsession for which it is best known.
Still, I can't dismiss it entirely, and am at a level curious to see how similar Melville's other stuff is. I can believe from the strength of concept in visualizing many of the characters and the dramatic build that there's a great novel in him, but in the end this text is too padded, slow and disjointed to be a success.
Similar to and better than: Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte
Similar to and worse than: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo