Monday, 27 November 2006

The secret sharer

Listening to:

Yes it is, by the Beatles. Somewhat drone-y, I have to say.

Just read:

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories.

This Folio Society edition of Conrad short stories collects seven stories that originally appeared in two volumes, ’Twixt Land and Sea, and Tales of Hearsay. I definitely liked the first two stories, A Harbour Story and The Secret Sharer. The first is dark and tropically decadent. It’s mainly set on an island where the narrator has come to harbour. He gets entangled in a local merchant’s affairs, and with the merchant’s daughter.

In the second story, the narrator is another ship’s captain, who happens to pick up a man lost at sea and shelters him in his cabin. The castaway is from a nearby ship, and jumped because he had accidentally killed another member of the crew. The narrator keeps his presence a secret, making him the secret sharer of the captain’s cabin. There are two episodes of drama, as the fugitive is hidden from his original ship, and then helped to freedom. It’s all quite effective.

The third story is Freya of the Seven Isles, a romantic tragedy, featuring a loathsome Dutch lieutenant and a doomed love. It’s rather tedious really.

Fourth, The Warrior’s Soul is better again, being set during the Napoleonic Wars and about the discharging of an honourable debt between two soldiers on opposing sides (France and Russia). It’s formally neat, and a little bit vicious. Condensed it might have more impact, but Conrad’s typical psychologizing works quite well too.

Of the remaining stories, The Black Mate is cute and about as comic as Conrad ever gets. It reads a bit like a camp-fire story with an amusing twist. The Tale is another impressive and nasty story about a naval captain interrogating a merchant captain who may actually be a spy. Finally, Prince Roman is a so-so story about family loyalty and honour, set in nineteenth century Poland.

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