I started 2016 reading and rereading Conrad’s three great novels, Nostromo, Under Western Eyes, and Victory, and I couldn’t get enough of these books having read them and read them again, so I picked at them throughout the year, a mad compulsion for Conrad’s prose. “Conrad’s prose” is the exact synonym of “good writing” so that whenever I found myself reading a contemporary book and complaining about it, specifically its lack or lightness, I’d pick up Conrad to prove to myself that it is possible for man to do better, to do so much better, with words, ideas, and stories.
And so a week rarely passes where I don’t think about Axel Heyst and Razumov, the main—but not the most interesting characters—in Victory and Under Western Eyes. With Nostromo, there is place to think about as much as persons, and this is done by design—the first quarter of Nostromo is expository, with casual insights into the characters, and the story doesn’t properly start until Martin Decoud arrives. These three novels are so rich as they can be reread constantly with a reader gaining new and different insights with each pass.
I’ve put the trio of good books aside now, and have started again on Lord Jim, a novel that is so much sadder than I remember. But there’s a strange sparkle to the sadness, because Marlow is telling Jim’s tale, and Marlow is the liveliest narrator ever conjured by a modern novelist. The pleasure of great novels is that they don’t let you slide out of them, they invade your life waking and sleeping, and having a Marlow tell one’s story—one couldn’t ask for better.
So it is Conrad, waking and sleeping—and jogging. This morning on a run I finally listened to the Orson Welles version of The Secret Sharer. It is slightly abridged but wonderful, and I take it Welles was beat and worn during its recording, for his voice is labored, but he has spry moments, giving all characters a unique hiss or bark. No escaping this Conrad.