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Tony Grist

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Making Friends With Conrad [Apr. 13th, 2018|09:40 am]
Tony Grist
 The last time I posted about Conrad it was to take issue with him about the way he was banging on about the workings of chance in the novel called Chance. I thought it all a bit heavy-handed. And I was also cheesed off at his misanthropy. But Chance- let me say- is a very good novel if not a masterpiece- and I read it right through to the end and emerged wanting more.

So I read The Rover, which is the last novel he finished- and it's a much sunnier book. Throughout his career Conrad hovered between the poles of James and Stevenson- or- to put it another way- between psychology and romance. In the great books of his middle period- the ones universally accepted as masterpieces- Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Under Western Eyes- the balance is maintained; they are psychologically probing but also really rather exciting. But then the needle starts to wobble. Chance is heavily psychological- and very slow-moving with nothing very much happening- and then everything gets resolved in a sudden flurry of melodrama, involving poison and people striking attitudes. It's a real turning point. And thereafter psychology recedes and romance pushes forward. By the time we get to The Rover we're deep in Stevenson country- with a historical setting, a mentally disturbed heroine, a taciturn hero, a loony with a pitchfork and a retired pirate who fetches up in a retired spot- just like Billy Bones (only nicer). There is suspense, violence- and the story culminates in a stirring sea chase, with nobility displayed on every quarter. For whatever reason Conrad has outgrown his contempt for humanity and is having fun. I like The Rover very much. 

And now I've launched into Suspense- the novel he left unfinished. We're in Capri, Napoleon is in exile in Elba, just across the water, and mysterious things are happening by night in the tower that guards the harbour. Is there a plan afoot to bring the Emperor home? The writing is richly atmospheric, people are doing things rather than having their every thought analysed- and I'm hooked...
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