We are Sailing

21 08 2016

The Shadow-Line: A Confession by Joseph Conrad

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‘A sudden passion of anxious impatience rushed through my veins and gave me such a sense of the intensity of existence as I have never felt before or since.’ Written in 1915, The Shadow-Line is based upon events and experiences from twenty-seven years earlier to which Conrad returned obsessively in his fiction. A young sea captain’s first command brings with it a succession of crises: his sea is becalmed, the crew laid low by fever, and his deranged first mate is convinced that the ship is haunted by the malignant spirit of a previous captain. This is indeed a work full of ‘sudden passions’, in which Conrad is able to show how the full intensity of existence can be experienced by the man who, in the words of the older Captain Giles, is prepared to ‘stand up to his bad luck, to his mistakes, to his conscience’. A subtle and penetrating analysis of the nature of manhood, The Shadow-Line investigates varieties of masculinity and desire in a subtext that counterpoints the tale’s seemingly conventional surface.

Classic Conrad this and the storytelling doesn’t disappoint. Superbly written as ever and with a really powerful depiction of life at sea this really is very good indeed.

 

four stars

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Western observation

23 07 2016

Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

 

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First published in 1911, Under Western Eyes traces the experiences of Razumov, a young Russian student of philosophy who is uninvolved in politics or protest. Against his will he finds himself caught up in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing directed against the Tsarist authorities. He is pulled in different directions – by his conscience and his ambitions, by powerful opposed political forces, but most of all by personal emotions he is unable to suppress. Set in St Petersburg and Geneva, the novel is in part a critical response to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment but it is also a startlingly modern book. Viewed through the ‘Western eyes’ of Conrad’s English narrator, Razumov’s story forces the reader to confront the same moral issues: the defensibility of terrorist resistance to tyranny, the loss of individual privacy in a surveillance society, and the demands thrown up by the interplay of power and knowledge.

With a new BBC adaptation of The Secret Agent screening it looks like Conrad might be coming back into fashion. Maybe, maybe not but Under Western Eyes is an outstanding book whichever way you look at it. Certainly as good as The Secret Agent it feels surprisingly fresh and modern and, as the blurb above notes, addresses some big issues which are as relevant today as they were a century ago. Recommended.

 

four stars








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