14) Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad
This took me a while; it is very dense prose, and you can’t skim it. A fascinating tale of disgraced and redemption; the eponymous Jim is complicit, more or less by accident, in marooning eight hundred pilgrims in a sinking ship in the Arabian Sea; fleeing his past, he ends up in the interior of Celebes (or as we now say Sulawesi), where he finds a role as protector and lover; and meets a gallant end.
The portrait of Jim’s own psychological journey is fantastic, told through stories within stories, as if we are delving through layers of narrative to get at the truth. It is very nearly good enough to drown out the colonialist assumptions of the narrative; Jim basically becomes a white god to the natives; the lowest form of life is the mulatto or half-breed (even though this includes Jim’s lover); there are a number of brilliant psychological sketches of other characters, but only white ones. (Having said that, the French officer who found the pilgrim ship, and the German merchant who sends Jim on his final mission, are both great creations – I frequently meet officials who are just like the French guy.)
Not hugely cheerful reading for the Christmas break, but I found I was compelled to finish it once I had started.
Unsuggestions for this book:
- Stitch ‘N Bitch Nation, by Debbie Stoller [knitting]
- Twelve Sharp, by Janet Evanovich
- Incubus Dreams, by Laurell K. Hamilton
- Girls in Pants: the Third Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares