This review of Lord Jim
was originally posted on my other website in late 2005, but it didn't really fit there, so I moved it here. It is reposted below with a few style edits, but otherwise my opinion of the book has not changed an iota, even though my memory of it has happily faded. Also, if you have not yet read Lord Jim
you may not want to read this review because I reveal how the book ends. To be sure, I don't think the ending matters any more than the beginning or the middle, and whether you like or dislike the book, the plot is almost certainly not going to be the reason. The plot is insignificant, really, being entirely secondary to the method and style of telling the tale. Lord Jim
is just a story within a story, the inner one being only marginally interesting at best, while the outer one is not even that.
Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad ©1900
The website Bibliomania
has a synopsis of Lord Jim
that fairly well summarizes the story, but the synopsis doesn't come anywhere near close to revealing how utterly boring and generally silly the book is. In a word, Lord Jim
is terrible. I know the book is considered a classic of literature, but I can only presume it earned that label because, well, because something so dense and difficult to follow simply must be a classic. There just cannot be any other reason.
Of course, it is possible that I dislike the book only because I am too old, too uncultured, or too uneducated to appreciate it, but I really think I've just outgrown affected writing styles that meander in spurts and fizzles from cover to cover with no apparent plan or goal. Conrad may have been one of the first to write in this style, but it has been done better by others since. For me, reading Lord Jim
was naught but effort, all work and no enjoyment, unlike other dense classics that made me work, but were more than worth the effort—books like Moby Dick
and The Portrait of a Lady
. Unfortunately, this book has no depth, so the initially-attractive complexity is all surface tangles and doily lace, which can be interesting to look at but not for long.
Surprisingly, a good friend recommended the book to me years ago as one of the best books he'd ever read, a favorite, so I tried to read it then but I simply could not get past the first two or three chapters. A few weeks ago, I decided I was going to read the book through to the end, regardless, and much to my regret I did just that.
You know what? Jim dies. That's it.
And not only does Jim die, he gets himself killed in a moment of misguided, pathetically shallow integrity, in the middle of nowhere, for stupid, author-contrived reasons. In the end, he betrays his friends, his lover, and those who depend on him most—which is not to say there is any inconsistency in the book. From beginning to end, Lord Jim
is a snarly mess of loose-end dialogue, disjointed monologue, fanciful flights of memory, and torturous digressions. The book is one long run-on sentence that starts with "He was an inch..." and essentially ends with "he fell forward, dead." A few meaningless paragraphs after that, the book actually does end when another character "waves his hand sadly at his butterflies."
Could I be less impressed? Hardly.
In the end, the book turns out to be not really about Jim, who actually says almost nothing that matters, but about some of the other people who inhabit Jim's plane of existence: his shipmates, one of the nautical assessors at his trial, his wife, his verbose patron saint Captain Marlow, and an anonymous audience of men to whom Marlow tells Jim's painfully long tale. It almost seems that Jim is only the vehicle Conrad uses to give Marlow something to talk about; however, Marlow is also never really expressed in any meaningful way, and most of the other characters, for all of Conrad's many words, are little more than caricatures and silhouettes. The book is full of entirely forgettable people, but the sheer drudgery of having stuck with it to the end will ensure that I won't forget them soon.*
So was Lord Jim
even worth reading? Not really. It was a trial and a trudge, and except for now being able to say I've read it, I regret having done so. Even if I had not read another of the books on my shelf, I am certain the time would have been better spent on almost any other activity at all, including watching grass grow or naming cloud formations. As for why my friend liked it so much, I haven't a clue. Either he was very young when he read it or he had not yet been exposed to genuinely good fiction, but whatever the reason, it will not change my opinion of the book or of Conrad, whose other works I will gladly pass on.
[ *I was wrong. It took almost no time at all to forget almost everything about the book except that I disliked it immensely. Jan 08 ]