Wednesday, 14 July 2004

A set of six

Listening to:

Pink Floyd, Don’t leave me now, a song from The Wall.

Just read:

Joseph Conrad, A set of six.

(I actually read this in an edition that was re-titled as The duel and other tales.) This is a collection of 6 short stories. The first is Gaspar Ruiz: a tale of romance. This story about a South American soldier is set during the period of the wars of liberation, when Spain lost control of its colonies. The setting has some similarities with that of Nostromo, and both stories also centre on characters that are “heroes” and thus subject to a certain degree of Conradian cynicism. Unfortunately, the climax of GR is hard to take very seriously, though the development of the story up to this point is definitely interesting.

Then there’s The informer, which shares its setting with The secret agent, and is about a band of anarchists in turn of the century London. The narrator does a half-way reasonable job of introducing the characters and setting, but the story then fizzles: the climax is quite underwhelming.

Better is The brute, which begins by stylishly leading the reader “up the garden path”. Then, after the twist when everything one has been reading needs to be re-evaluated, I found a certain black humour in what becomes a more conventional sea story. I also enjoyed The anarchist, which tells the story of a French convict. As often happens in Conrad, the convict’s story is framed by another character’s story: the narrator visiting a boring South American island that is redeemed only by a beautiful species of butterfly.

The fifth story is by far the longest. This is The duel, about a pair of French officers who fight a series of duels during the Napoleonic wars. This is an atmospheric yarn, with a happy ending. Definitely enjoyable. Finally, there is the muted story Il conde, about a European aristocrat’s brush with crime in Naples. After finishing, I read my edition’s introduction (by Giles Foden), where I was impressed with the theory that Il conde is actually a disguised story of gay cruising gone wrong. I certainly had to think the story through once more.