Monday, 16 September 2002

Almayer's folly

Listening to:

Tracy Chapman, her album of the same name.

Just read:

Joseph Conrad, Almayer's folly and a collection of short stories that accompanied it in my edition, Tales of Unrest.

Almayer's folly is a short novel (Conrad's first), about a self-deluding Dutch trader, down on his luck in the Indonesian islands, and living in a dilapidated trading settlement on a river near a native village. Almayer has a beautiful daughter, Nina. Nina was educated in Singapore, until her half-caste origins caused her to be hounded out of polite society.

The story takes off when a handsome visiting Malay prince, Dain, appears on the scene, and Nina and he fall in love. It sounds like a fairy tale, and there are some neat twists in the plot that sees them attempt to run away together. This definitely held my attention, but the ultimate focus of the story is on Almayer, and how he just doesn't get it. His life truly is a folly. So yes, this is typical Conradian misery, but it's atmospheric and well plotted too. I liked it.

There are five stories in Tales of unrest. I probably liked the first the most. This is Karain: a memoir, and is the story of another Malay prince. This one is observed somewhat distantly, but affectionately, by some Europeans who are smuggling guns to him. They also provide a unique, slightly amusing, but very well described service for Karain at the end of the story. Next, The idiots is a story of rural misery, and much less interesting than Amy Foster, and even that I didn't like very much.

Third is An outpost of progress. This feels a bit like Conrad warming himself up for Heart of darkness, but is a good story in its own right. It's set in Africa, on a wild river, and features totally helpless Europeans losing it in the face of the implacable local environment. Fourth is The return, about marital infidelity in a respectable London home. It gets off to a great start, but there's far too much tortured conversation. The man does eventually realise how much of an idiot he's been (and the depiction of his idiocy is well, and amusingly done), but I'd given up caring by this point. Finally, The lagoon, which shares an embedded story all too similar to that in Karain, without the virtues of an interesting framing story. It's not bad, but not exactly rivetting.

Now reading:

Joseph Conrad, The rover. His last novel, set in Napoleonic France.