Sam's Reviews > Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
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M 50x66
's review
Dec 02, 2011

really liked it
Read in November, 2011

This is in some ways an amazing book, and in other ways a tedious book. It tells the story of a young man, Jim, who goes to sea, filled with romantic thoughts of heroic deeds, valor, and manliness. However, events on his journey on the ship Patna soon show him that he is not who he hoped to be. Worse, the whole world knows what happened, and he is unable to live it down, or even leave it behind. (To say more might be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, it is a striking event.)

The first three or four chapters (out of 45) are luminous. The prose is "high literature", but positively inspired and inspiring. To give a sample:

"She held on straight for the Red Sea under a serene sky, under a sky scorching and unclouded, enveloped in a fulgor of sunshine that killed all thought, oppressed the heart, withered all impulses of strength and energy. And under the sinister splendour of that sky the sea, blue and profound, remained still, without a stir, without a ripple, without a wrinkle --- viscous, stagnant, dead. The Patna, with a slight hiss, passed over that plain, luminous and smooth, unrolled a black ribbon of smoke across the sky, left behind her on the water a white ribbon of foam that vanished at once, like the phantom of a track drawn upon a lifeless sea by the phantom of a steamer."

This might be a bit overly portentous, but I found it completely inspiring, and was initially convinced it was one of the greatest books I have even read.

However, in chapter five, the narrative switches to reporting the story as reported through a bystander, Marlow. The prose becomes way too portentous, continually trying to express unspoken meanings. The overall result makes for difficult and sometimes tedious reading. I found myself impatiently waiting for Marlowe to finish his narration, but, when he does, there is a brief interlude, and then Marlow picks up the narrative again.

The narrative by Marlow is so long in fact, that Conrad even mentions in the Author's Note in the forward that various critics felt it should have been a short story, and feels compelled to defend its length.

In summary, the book has some stellar parts, particularly in the first parts of the story. However, for me, it was a bit of a struggle to finish the book. In addition, the last episode, where Jim has withdrawn from "civilized" society and become "Lord Jim", is rather weak both in terms of plot and character development. The ending scene is overly dramatic and cheapens the rest of the book with a somewhat hackneyed ending.

Nonetheless, the book gives one a lot to think about, including some wonderful scenes of non-western cultures. It creates a compelling atmosphere. As a work of literature, it certainly deserves at least the three stars I awarded. As a "fun" or light read, it deserves at most these three stars.

Added later: I have updated my rating to four stars. Basically because I find I am continuing to think about the book and character of Lord Jim even over a week later, it seems appropriate to let the "work of literature" aspect dominate more the "fun read" aspect.

At the same, I have been reading Jorge Luis Borges's "The Aleph and Other Stories", and I keep finding parallels; at times, the mood or sensibility of Borges comes close to that of Conrad in "Lord Jim". In fact, Borges mentions the Lord Jim book at least twice in his stories in this volume.

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