08 December 2006

Guest review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, reviewed by a monk

I'm trying out a new idea here, which I may or may not continue. Following is a 'guest review' from Richard of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. I have a few friends and family who read widely and well, and thought it might be interesting to share their book thoughts on this blog. Thanks to Rich for sharing his review, and letting me hypertext it up.

This fall I reread Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim" for the first time since high school. Why I took so long to reread the book I can't say; probably because it was largely ruined for me, like "Huckleberry Finn", by my English teachers. Conrad's stories of sailors and the sea are definitely of another time, but his character portraits and plots would not fall out of place in any movie today. The story consists mostly of a character named Marlowe telling a tale or three about the title character, a young man named Jim whose great crimes are that he tried to save his own life and that he has an incurably romantic nature. (Anyone who doubts that Marlowe could not have talked for so long on one subject discounts Conrad's ability to tell a story, and probably hasn't attended a corporate-mandated meeting.) Marlowe ran into Jim several times at key moments in the latter's life and Jim's story fascinated him, largely because Jim's problems could have been anyone's if fate had twisted or changed. Jim seems to have finally found peace with himself and the outside world in a remote area of Celebes, having won this at great risk and with great valor. Marlowe visits Jim himself in this remote corner of the world to see how he was doing, and came away happy for Jim but uneasy, particularly as Jim's new lady love was uneasy, thinking Jim would want to leave.

I leave the ending for those who would read it. Conrad wrote in a very masculine style and was an advocate of the strenuous life. The book probably would appeal most to those who like stories of this type, but be forwarned that, having been written at the beginning of the 20th century by a man who had sailed the world over, there are terms, ideas, and assumptions that are not politically correct in today's prissy world. Still, it's a great tale that unfolds to its conclusion.