Monday, October 31, 2011

Nostromo, a Tale of the Seaboard by Joseph Conrad: A review

Earlier this year, I read and enjoyed The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. That book was based on the germ of an idea from Conrad's Nostromo. It was set in the fictional country invented by Conrad for his book. Reading that book made me curious about Nostromo and I added it to my reading list. I hardly knew what I was letting myself in for. 

This was a very difficult read for me and it took me a seemingly interminable amount of time to finish it, but I persevered and did manage to read all the way to the end. Part of the difficulty lay in the fact that I read it on my Kindle. It might have been easier with a physical book where I could turn back and reread sections or refer to previous sections with greater ease. As it was, the story was very difficult to get into and I was fully one-third of the way through the book before I began to get a real sense of the story. 

One problem that I had with the book was that Nostromo, the main character around whom all the action takes place, is absent from much of the book. We only see him obliquely through the eyes of others, and for long passages he doesn't seem to figure in at all. He is described as the bold and courageous Italian seaman who is a natural-born leader and is admired by everyone. He is incorruptible and undaunted by any challenge, the very model that the inventor of the phrase "paragon of virtue" had in mind. 

Nostromo is a hero to the Europeans living in the political upheaval that is Costaguana. When revolution comes, he is the one who saves the day with a dramatic ride. He is also the man chosen to spirit away a load of silver ingots before they can fall into the hands of the "wrong side." He takes them out to sea where they are supposedly lost when the boat sinks, but were they really lost? Well, Nostromo is incorruptible so he wouldn't lie about it, would he? 

The revolution is resolved - sort of - and Nostromo slowly begins to build up his wealth until finally he is a very wealthy, as well as respected, man, but then, predictably, it all begins to fall apart. One just knows this isn't going to end well, and (Spoiler alert!) it doesn't. 

I really wanted to like this book, but I just found it tedious in the extreme. Although the overall story appealed to me, I could never really get engaged in it. One thing is certain: Any future Conrad that I read will be from a physical paper book. I think this old-fashioned writer is probably best read in old-fashioned form.

No comments:

Post a Comment