Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kwantsu, dudes!

Current book: Lord Jim
Pages read: 186-302

Man, I just do not know about Conrad's talent as a writer. And by "I don't know," I mean, "I know, and he doesn't have any." I don't mean to sound harsh, and actually, I think that Heart of Darkness, when I read it again, is going to be much better written than Lord Jim, but this book suffers from extremely poor craftsmanship. While I was able to appreciate Henry James's ability to pace and plot The Bostonians, regardless of how I didn't particularly identify with any of the characters and found the statements it was making muddy and mildly offensive at best, Lord Jim is handily defeating my intention to give it the chance to prove that Conrad is worthy of his many accolades. The guy can't stick to a timeline to save his life, which I can accept as a valid literary technique (even though I hate it so much that I find it difficult to express the loathing), but he does it to absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

He switches narrative styles in the same fashion; presumably it's always Marlow who's narrating, but sometimes he gives us play-by-play explanations of events he's personally witnessed, and sometimes he tells us about what Jim's told him, but in such a fashion that it seems like third-person omniscient narration. It's ridiculous. You're never sure who's talking about whom, or even who's speaking, due to the fact that the parts that are direct quotes from Jim are often dozens of pages long, but sporadically interspersed with irrelevant commentary by Marlow. I mean, Christ on a crutch, if somebody tried this in a college writing course, his workshop would devour him alive. The emperor is naked, guys. Seriously.

Well, anyway, there's some plot, at least. Jim, accompanied by his letter of introduction, goes off to manage a rice mill for a friend of Marlow's, and secures himself a happy situation for a short while. Soon, however, one of the ex-crewmen from his ship shows up, and the recollection of his dishonour is so great that he feels he can't bear it. He gives up his job with no notice and runs away. There are a few more incidents like this that make it clear that Jim can't stand to be reminded of his past, and as result, he ends up taking an assignment in Patusan, a remote state in an unnamed Southeast Asian country. (Patusan was created by Joseph Conrad, but Surf Ninjas totally used it for the name of their fake country, and now I'm pretty much forced to think of Rob Schnieder being an idiot and that one kid's enchanted Game Gear every time Conrad uses the name. It's sort of distracting.)

When he gets there, he finds it extremely hostile, due to the fact that there's a crazy Rajah in power, whom he immediately, in all his Great White Savior-ness, ousts through military force, becoming quite the local legend in the process. The local people are, of course, eternally grateful and beholden to him. Before he accomplished his great coup, it seems, he fell in love with a local girl whom he calls Jewel, and he's now taken her to wife. Marlow relates all of this to us during a visit to Patusan, which he seems to have made his way to quite easily, despite the fact that it's supposed to be so remote that Jim will never be located by anyone who might know anything about his shameful past.

That's about it, in, again, way too many pages. Also, it makes no sense that Marlow has gone to all this trouble to secure positions for and travel to visit this guy whom he barely knows. He met him at the trial, for God's sakes, and now they're BFFs? What is the deal with that?

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