One day I would like to read a biography of Joseph Conrad. Polish born, raised in French, an English speaker only as an adult, a member of the French merchant marine, a British citizen, and an author of unbelievable talent. His words, his sentences, his paragraphs – all unique, and all in a way musical. I had never read “Victory”, one of his later novels (written when he was in his late 50s), until last week. Enjoyed it immensely and recommend it. Takes place largely on various islands of Indonesia, the main character, the British raised Swede Axel Heyst, escaped from his intellectual father to the South Seas, where he gets involved in an ambitious coal mining operation, which proposed mining coal in the Indies to serve the scattered islands of the Indies. The company goes bankrupt, but Heyst, its local manager, stays on, leading an isolated, independent, vagabond life. Following the death of Heyst’s partner in the coal mining business, a certain Morrison, local hotel keeper, the disliked German Schomberg, spreads a false rumor that Heyst murdered Morrison and stole all of his money. The hotel engages an all-girl band to play during the evenings. The members of the orchestra are all tough cookies, with the exception of young English Lena, whom Heyst helps escape from her bondage and goes off with her to his isolated island home. Unfortunately, Schomberg also had eyes on Lena (to escape from his wife) and sets three ruffians off to retrieve her and kill Heyst, assuring them that Heyst has, at his home, sufficient treasure to take care of them the rest of their lives. And the rest, as they say, is history……or in this case fiction. A good traveler’s description of the Indies during the 19th century, and a good psychological description of the people who populated it.
I have read a number of Conrad’s book, and have only been disappointed in one of them “Lord Jim”. I am not sure this is the fault of the book, which I read for the first time in high school. The problem is mine, I think. Like some of the Faulkner books I have tried to read, it seems to have been written in a style that I just can’t comprehend. I can’t follow the story line, I don’t know what I am reading – it’s like it was in another language. But, OK, I am going to try again.