Wednesday, 3 April 2002

The shadow line

Listening to:

Neilsen, symphony no. 5.

Just read:

Joseph Conrad, The Shadow Line.

The book I read is actually the combination of two works previously published separately. In addition to The Shadow Line, a short novel, it includes the short story collection Within the Tides.

The Shadow Line gets off to a slow start, with the narrator, a young man, waiting for passage back to Britain from Singapore. He is there after having given up his position as first mate on a ship for no reason other than general boredom and lassitude. After getting himself into an immature huff over minor irritations with the people at the hostel where he is staying, he is suddenly and unexpectedly given the chance to command a sailing ship that has lost its captain in Bangkok. This is his first command, and as if in a dream, he takes the opportunity, and is taken to Bangkok on a steam-ship. The rest of the novel describes how he gets the boat from Bangkok to Singapore, and in overcoming various crises, grows up as well. (He thereby crosses “the shadow line” that separates immaturity from a more seasoned youthfulness.)

The novel is autobiographical, echoing an episode of Conrad's life, and although not much really happens, it’s conveyed very intensely, getting the reader quite caught up in the young captain’s emotions and fears. It’s quite similar in tone and scale to Conrad's other sea voyage stories, such as The Nigger of the Narcissus, Youth and Typhoon; I enjoyed it.

There are four stories in Within the tides. The first and longest is The planter of Malata. This is an unlikely melodrama featuring the planter of the title suddenly falling in love with a woman who has come out to the unidentified colony where the novel is set to find her long lost love (not the planter). It features a heart-felt conversation on the top of an island, just as in Victory, and I didn't really like it that much. I appreciated the plot twists that got us to the island and the awful conversation though.

Next was The Partner which was a good, though somewhat uninvolving, story about an attempted insurance scam and a shipwreck. Then, The Inn of the Two Witches, which was an odd attempt at gothic horror, with a slightly silly twist. Finally was the story I liked best, A handful of dollars, about an honourable captain who is caught up in an attempted robbery in an obscure Indonesian backwater. This story has a good mix of character, plot and incident, and a final, and perhaps slightly out-of-place, poignancy.

Now reading:

More Conrad, Chance.

I missed two web-log entries through Easter slacking. Four day weekends should happen more often.