“I wonder – no, I want to know, I demand to know how come that, of all books, your Book is that depressing Lord Jim,” says T.
“Oh, for… for any number of reasons. And it’s not depressing.”
“Any number… Such as?”
Such as. I start counting on fingers, and come up with ten – which is not any number, but is a number, undeniably.
“You are going to make a post out of this, aren’t you?” asks T., with that air of knowing the ways of bloggers… And well, I couldn’t very well disappoint, could I?
So, what it says on the tin: ten reasons why Conrad’s Lord Jim is My Book.
I. Because the first time I read it, I gave up on page 12, thinking that I thoroughly disliked it. In fact, by then, I was so hooked that I had to go back, and read, and finish it.
II. Because, twentyfive years later, every time I re-read it, I find some new nuance, some facet I had missed, some wonder buried a little deeper.
III. Because the main character is so beautifully written, that he is as real to me as though I’d met him in the flesh. I know Jim – I know his voice, the way he thinks, the way he moves*. He is very nearly family.
IV. Because at hard times, or facing tough choices, this is the book I go back to, even though – or perhaps just because – it is a sorrowful story of guilt, failure, regret, of missed chances, and missed redemption.
V. Because at eighteen, reading an abridged version of the English original, I fell in love with the language, and discovered its beauty, and lost my faith in literary translation. That the author was, like myself, a non-native speaker, was to become highly inspirational in later years.
VI. For the tiny scene where, after defeating Ali’s people, the villagers wildly cheer Jim with gongs and tam-tams, waving yellow, white and red banners. It’s just five lines, told by a narrator who heard Jim’s version from Marlow – a rather dizzying game of Chinese boxes – and yet, it’s… illuminated in my memory with startling vividness.
VII. Because, in lesser hands, this could have been just another exotic adventure, and a very melodramatic one – but Conrad makes it a tragic tale of the unability of living up to one’s own standards. Not only is Jim flawed, buy he succumbs to his flaws. He misunderstands himself and everyone else, pursues or dreads illusory things, fails to learn how to deal with reality, and pays (and makes many others pay) a terrible price, in the bleakest of endings.
VIII. Because at sixteen, reading this book for the first time, I learnt that writers must be merciless to their characters – never spare them anything, never protect them from themselves, from the plot, from the reader’s judgement.
IX. Because through Conrad’s complex structure and characterization, I had my first inkling of the certainty that writing was not about waiting for inspiration to open one’s heart and pour the contents on the blank page. Through readings, re-readings, analyses and dissections, LJ was my first writing course.
X. Because for twentyfive years I have beem yearning to write… not a book like this, but one with its itensity, shadows, depth, power and beauty. Wish me luck.
And what about you? What has Your Book done for you?
* And he doesn’t look like Peter O’Toole. Not in the least.