I’ve read and loved a couple of books by Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness – both quite good. I’ve tried to read Lord Jim prior but could never get past the second chapter for some reason – the general idea of men at sea never appealed to me much at all, although there are exceptions.
Whatever – a reading group chose it to read and there I was, struggling to pay attention again and after all that effort finding the book not really worth effort.
by Joseph Conrad
1899 / 308 pages (Kindle)
read by Ric Jerrom
rating: 7 / classic fiction
This is likely the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a classic – (checking … checking … Nope – Aldous Huxley’s Island got a 4.). I know there are folks who think this is one of the best books ever written but there are also those who think as I do – it’s a big overblown short story with too many digressions and the distancing of Marlow’s story telling Jim’s story sometimes within the stories of others.
Anyway, as Marlow tells us, Jim was a parson’s son who wanted to be a seaman – got trained and landed a job on a ship but blew it when a great storm turned up. The ship and many men were lost. There was an official inquiry and Jim had to testify as did the other survivors and is disillusioned, angry and silent afterwards. As far as the others were concerned, Jim had shown himself to be a coward and a liar. The first three chapters are boring and over-written but I got through it.
Then, at the tail-end of Chapter 4 Marlow shows up to continue the story with his story of Jim, in Jim’s own words of course. Marlow helps Jim get work. Lots of quote marks to pay attention to – both double and single. Listening might be a far less preferred option here.
The paragraphs are still pages long and for me, anyway, definitely a slog to read, but there is some tension building (I think the reader of the Audible version should be thanked for that) what with the pressure on Jim to testify, on his testimony and what was thought of it, the suicide of one of his later interlocutors, Jim’s tale to Marlow, etc.
Then smack in the middle of Chapter 12 (out of 45) Marlow changes direction and introduces a Frenchman who was involved in the rescue and about a conversation they had later.
This change of direction happens so frequently that it’s seriously distracting and makes the whole book seem fragmented and choppy, almost like different stories strung together.
And it gets overly excited – I was just plumb worn out listening to Jerron reading it even if I was following (trying to follow) in the Kindle version. In doing the over-dramatized reading I think Jerron did bring a lot of meaning to the story but at what cost?
(Fwiw, I had to check with Schmoop chapter summaries to make sure I was understanding what was going on – I was always on the right track, but still….)
I really get tired of so much description there’s no room for anything else – not reader ideas in creating the scene, not suspense, nothing. It’s all about getting every detail of that physical courtroom and its occupants described. And there are too many internal stories – all of which come back to Jim – that the main plot keeps getting lost.
And then, leaving the courtroom after the sentence, with some omniscient narrator telling us how Marlow described something to some audience on a verandah, he goes off onto a story of something else. The long long paragraphs turn into pages which go on and on as Marlow’s multi-layered story-telling unfolds . .Is Marlow a reliable narrator? – LOL! –
I suppose the themes are “being a gentleman” (“But then, he was one of us!” – repeated..) and how that was of highest importance – Jim needed redemption for his error (which was not his alone). This was all about what other people thought of you Then there are the ideas of imperialism/racism –
I doubt I’ll ever read anything by Conrad again – there are just too many really good books in the world.