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on 5 July 2013
Where I got the idea that Ford Madox Ford was an intellectual who only wrote modernist literature, and who would therefore be a chore to read, I do not know.

It always put me off, which is a shame, as this is a really good book along the lines of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. A young but impoverished noble gets involved in underhand events and has to leave England or he'll be arrested. With two friends, he escapes on a ship to Spain and eventually ends up in Cuba. The story is about his ideas of a romantic life, and having adventures, and what that actually means in practice. It's set in the Caribbean in the late 17th century when slavery and piracy was widespread. It's written in old-world English, which adds to the period charm, but basically it's a boys own adventure with a serious edge.

You are not going to be edified by the end of it, but it's a cracking good read.
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on 21 October 2006
Joseph Conrad's Romance is one of his last books, published in 1923 (he died the following year). Conrad's final novels supposedly showed a dramatic falling off of his powers (and I've certainly read some I thought were poor). Why does no-one want to examine the second-rate? Much is to be learned about Conrad from his later books. And Romance is quite readable, enjoyable even, one of the most exciting books I've read for ages. It's a bit like an elder Stevenson, a boy's adventure story, a bit slow in places but still fascinating. It does not move me as some of Conrad's stories have done, even to tears, but it's not bad at all. The co-author is Ford Maddox Hueffer. Was he a collaborator or did he complete Conrad's unfinished manuscript?

The book really is about romance, in all its aspects, and does a credible job of it. Romance is a melodrama, a genre highly coloured and over reliant on the complexities of its plot. The style is beautiful, if mannered and measured in places. Parts of Cuba are beautifully described, as is the sea and ships. Types are evocatively drawn, quick sketches that add verisimilitude without slowing down the plot. There are perhaps a few too many disasters, things going wrong at the right time so as to add to the suspense. Characters are too often obtuse when it is needed to build a climax. It's a real cliff -hanger (literally) and yet the narrative retains enough plausibility (just!) to make the book read like a thriller. One endures the crises, the disasters, the misunderstandings that advance the plot with an almost painful desire to reach the end. You can see the devices used to elaborate the plot and delay the denouement, just as you can see the playful skill of an old gentleman who, teasing you, refuses to tell you the end of a story before all the elaboration of detail that lead up to it.

But the narrative skill is impressive. And the book is self declared about romance, about the illusions and pursuits of youth. It is an old man's book, looking back on an adventurous life, sighing as all old men sigh - and then using a lifetimes' skill in the telling. If this is Conrad in decline, all technique and style but no great truths to impart, it is a decline that many other writers would envy.

No message, no picture of the workings of the human heart, of the intricacies of human nature.But charm, beautiful language and a few days entertainment. Why say no?
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