Friday, August 17, 2007

THE SECRET SHARER by Joseph Conrad

First of all, this is hardly a novel, no matter what they might say; it's only 45 pages. Second, it must be noted that Joseph Conrad has been put in that category of amazing, deep and timeless English Literature. The introduction to the book calls it one of the six greatest short novels in the English language. So is it?

The story concerns a new ship's captain, who while on watch discovers a swimmer in the sea. This man has (inadvertently?) killed another man on his own ship, and jumped overboard after he was put under arrest. The captain, for some reason, considers this man his "double", and takes care of him, hides him, and helps him to escape.

There are, as those who bow down before the altar of literature observe, themes of self-knowledge and identity. This is well and good, but I think it's hardly as profound as it's made out to be. This seems to be one of those times where the intelligentsia has all jumped on the bandwagon of discovering profound revelation where it may or may not exist.

Conrad has a very wordy and heavily descriptive style. Sometimes this works well, as there are scenes vividly portrayed. More often, it drags the story down. The feeling the reader comes away with is "This story is slightly boring." But that, I think it at least in part due to the writing style of 100 years ago.

So is there something deep here? Or am I too stupid to see it? That may well be, because I certainly don't see it.

This book seems to fit with my long-held Deepness Theory. The Deepness Theory is this: when you see a piece of art or read a piece of writing, and you just don't see what's so great about it, or you don't understand it or what the big deal is, you have to have a reason why, particularly when others think highly of it. So you could say "it's boring" or "it sucks", but then you look uncultured to the others, all of whom apparently think it's the cat's pajamas. So then you say, "Oh, it's so deep! I can't even understand it!" So then pretty soon everybody's doing that. It's like the Emperor's New Clothes. I also think it's similar to the way we treat the theory of evolution, but that's a whole other discussion.

So I'll say it. The Secret Sharer was slightly boring, and I didn't think it was anywhere near as profound as the literature kings say.

Next, we will give Conrad one more chance with Heart of Darkness. The Secret Sharer, however, is NOT RECOMMENDED