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October 13, 2009 / schulerbooks

… is Another Man’s Treasure: An Outcast of the Islands

Big gap between posts here, so hang on… things are gonna get rusty.

Didn’t think it’d take this long. I observed Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands like I would have picked up a mouse, with its tail pinched between my fingers. It weighs in at a modest 224 pages, and is his second novel (‘unabridged’ boasts its Vietnam-era publisher: “He made a long stride and dropped both his hands on the Malay’s shoulders.” We don’t need that sentence do we guys? No, absolutely not, sir. It’s implied. It is implied, isn’t it? What did Eliot see in this guy? Who’s Eliot? A sprinter, I think. Anyway, with the changes we’ve made, we’ll save 0.004 cents of ink per copy in addition to the quarter of a page we’re cutting off the end to recycle. Okay… do it. What’s next? Nabokov, sir. Something called Ada. He Russian? Yes, s- Forget it. What’s next?). But I’ve been a bit busy, what with school work, other reading and projects, and interning (I’ve fashioned a key for my shackles out of my boss’s barrette!).

Haha,  you’re ensconced now. But what better way to shirk your Tuesday morning responsibilites than with a healthy dose of Joseph Conrad adoration?

Yes, Joseph Conrad, who is to the literary world what the Appalachians are to the Rockies. Shrouded, subtle, and not just home to creatures of all sorts of ominous ambition, but a lurking creature all on its own. Never have I looked at a closed book with more determination than I have with any of Conrad’s stories. There’s a reason that most people describe his work as rewarding more than anything else. His language is tough, his insight deep, and his emotion distant. You may fall into self loathing for subjecting yourself to wandering his dense jungles of inner turmoil, having to grab the proverbial machete to hack your way through his meandering, sometimes convoluted, and (awesomely) oblique plotlines.

It’s worth noting that An Outcast of the Islands serves almost like a companion piece to Almayer’s Folly, Conrad’s debut novel which I have yet to finish. Outcast is almost more about Almayer than it is about the novel’s eponymous protagonist, Willems, a tendency noticeable in many of Conrad’s works.

Kaspar Almayer is a white trader living upriver in Borneo who deals with the exacerbated dilemmas of business caused by its being conducted on the outskirts of the civilized world, where corruption is as thick and inscrutable as the fog, and ever more maddening for it. Willems is a troublesome trader who’s mutually employed with Almayer under Captain Lingard. Once a dependable go-to guy for Lingard, he’s made enemies through financial problems and has become a liability, rendered virtually useless in the region. He’s shacked up with Almayer, then hides away in a native village, where one of literature’s archetypal femme fatales, Aissa, starts to cast some spells. Almayer, threatened by his presence, starts to plot his demise…

To people familiar with Conrad, I would definitely recommend An Outcast of the Islands. The seedlings of his recognizable works Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness are sown in Outcast, which at the heart studies the adaptability and limits of men’s souls during a period of rampant and unscrupulous imperialism. Also of merit is the exasperation and helplessness of Conrad’s women in the face of men’s deeds and their social standing of the time, a theme often ignored in favor of all of the racial implications his work holds.

For Conrad novices, I’d suggest something a bit more accessible, or -er, let’s go with shorter and well known. His short works can always be found bundled together. Heart of Darkness can easily be found with works like Amy Foster, The Secret Sharer, The Lagoon, Karain: A Memory, or An Outpost of Progress (Make sure to find The Tale!!!). He is certainly one of a kind, full of modern ideas presented in an archaic and beautifully crafted language, a language you know he loved to play with. Such works should serve as a good introduction to Conrad, who must often be re-read to be fully appreciated.

I better be off before my headache starts doing the typing. And no, I’m not suffering some kind of delusion, Mr. Belli. I’m just saying, it could get pretty vulgar.


-Patrick, Schuler Books


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