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Customer Review

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A fellow in a thousand", 20 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: Nostromo (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
This book was first bigged up by one or other of the Leavises in the 1930s, and in some ways Conrad hasn't really recovered from this.

Some people come to his work because they've noticed that all the space ships in the 'Alien' movies are named after people and places in Conrad novels (it's true: I've no idea why, but they are, and I know at least one person who bought 'Nostromo' for that reason). Others come to him because they've heard the movie 'Apocalypse Now' was based on Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', and they're interested in the source story. Others again read him because in literary circles, he's regarded as a giant, and 'Nostromo' as his masterpiece.

Anyone expecting instant gratification for any of the above reasons is going to be disappointed. The pace of this book is stately, the plot development equally so, and the characterisation meticulous. So patience is demanded and I think rewarded too, which is why it gets 5 stars.

The action is set in a fictional South American country whose history and geography are in effect characters in the book. Conrad spends a great deal of time on these. Thus, the port of Sulaco sits in an amphitheatre formed by mountains and a plain, and its harbour is another amphitheatre in which the main plot event occurs. The town itself is characterised by its parallelograms and rectangles of light and shade, and there is a distinction drawn between how people think and act in either environment.

There is a large cast for a Conrad novel - besides the title character there are the Goulds, the old revolutionary Giorgio Viola and his family, the diplomat Don Jose Avellanos, the buffoon sea captain Mitchell, the cynic Monygham, the nihilist Decoud, various generals, and others besides. Each of these is thoroughly introduced and explored as they enter the story. The result is an out-of-sequence narrative in which the key events of each character's story are presented as he enters the narrative; the key event may be something that happened in the past or that has yet to happen. So the first part of the book has little of the usual conventional chronology of events. This feature makes the novel quite challenging to follow, although if you can keep up with the plot of the movie 'Pulp Fiction', say, you should have no difficulty with this.

Nostromo, the incorruptible Capataz de Cargadores, is assigned every tricky and dangerous task requiring initiative and resourcefulness, and obliges because this earns him regard. The novel's crisis occurs when he is despatched into literal and figurative darkness away from this regard. Deprived of what makes him what he is, he "reboots" into someone different and does something unthinkable.

This theme, of layers of civilisation being stripped away to reveal the raw human underneath, is a repeated theme in Conrad's writing. In 'Nostromo', the result of depriving him of human regard is that he emerges as not incorruptible at all. Monygham's own equivalent previous experience rendered him a callous cynic. Decoud likelwise melts down when taken out of his habitat. The country itself experiences its own metamorphosis.

Conrad did the same in 'Heart of Darkness', where the character of Kurtz proceeds so far physically up an African river and backwards morally into a vacuum that all is left of him is the spectacle of the raw man (hence 'The horror! The horror!'). In 'Lord Jim', the character actually blanks the crucial moment when he sees himself for what he is.

There's a lot of ornamentation and very pictorial detail in there surrounding all of this, because in a Conrad novel, the character and their environment become one another. Personally I like it, and I can dip into this book without feeling the need to start at the beginning or end at the end. If you don't like to read like that, maybe skip this one and go to 'Heart of Darkness' or perhaps 'Almayer's Folly' (and if you read the former, you'll now 'get' what Marlon Brando was doing in 'Apocalypse Now' better than you did before...)
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Initial post: 27 Oct 2013 16:58:11 GMT
fileyfan says:
This is the best review that I have ever read on Amazon.
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