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I read Lord Jim twenty years ago and recalled its difficulty more than its greatness. This time around the reading experience was transfixing. I am one of those readers, not so rare, who does not mind if things go very slow and get even, uh, 'boring"; for a great book has the privilege of slowing time down, and down, so we can catch all that goes on in life, before a finger snaps and it is over, as in the case in our normal days. The first half of the novel, a nearly inactive unlayering, bit by bit, of Jim's consciousness, is as brilliant as fiction can be. Marlowe's intense attention to Jim's moral pain, or what he guesses to be Jim's moral pain, is a genuine adventure and the work of genius. Oddly enough, when the book moves toward "real" action toward the end, and things get physically hot and exciting (with the entrance of Mr. Brown and others), the force of the book may falter (it does to me). So, here it is, a book as vital as they come, if you take pleasure in the path of thought and the winding turns of human consciousness; and then it is a book that slows down when guns go off and cinema takes over. The stunning reading by the narrator is one in a million. No one could do Conrad better. Nigel Graham, who has recorded only a few books, sounds like a man of the kind of world Conrad knew. No frills, no games, a solid and heavily masculine reading; and a sense that if this man -- Nigel Graham -- stood next to you under an awning during a storm, he would intimidate you and maybe scare you. A genuinely great reading that is miles above other versions I have sampled -- including the good one by John Lee. Lord Jim -- one of the great novels, and, yes, Conrad, did not start learning English until he was in his twenties. That fact makes a great book a miraculous one -- and should make us recognize what lame slackers we are.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
In Lord Jim (1899-1900) by Joseph Conrad an experienced, wise, and sympathetic sea captain called Marlow tries to learn, understand, and tell the story of the life of a young ship's officer called Jim (surname discretely hidden). Marlow, as we know from Conrad's The Heart of Darkness (1903), is a compelling story-teller with a bent towards the mysterious and dark quality of human nature and the universe. Jim is a charismatic and complex character, so imaginative, romantic, courageous, and lucky and so naïve, egotistical, unconfident, and doomed. We are told early on that despite (or because) of his youthful dreams of heroic adventure, Jim once did an appalling deed that blighted his promising career and life, so that he has been serving as a humble ship chandler's water clerk on a series of ships, doing a fine job for each one, but repeatedly abandoning his position and moving farther east each time that his past catches up with him, until he is given the opportunity to make a clean start in a fictional Indonesian (?) country called Patusan, a world mostly apart from his original white-European one. Will Jim finally be able to forge a new identity and atone for his past? Will Marlow finally be able to understand the inscrutable core and meaning of Jim's life?
Lord Jim is replete with vivid descriptions, like the moment before Jim's ship meets an accident, "The young moon recurved, and shining low in the west, was like a slender shaving thrown up from a bar of gold, and the Arabian Sea, smooth and cool to the eye like a sheet of ice, extended its perfect level to the perfect circle of a dark horizon," or like the gait of an abject villain, "His slow laborious walk resembled the creeping of a repulsive beetle, the legs alone moving with horrid industry while the body glided evenly." The novel also has many interesting themes about the uncaring if not inimical nature of the universe, the complexity and mystery of the human heart, the danger of being too imaginative and romantic, and the foulness of being too cynical and realistic. And it is also subtly provocative about gender and race.
Nigel Graham does a wonderful job reading Lord Jim. He has an intelligently masculine manner and an appealingly gravelly voice, effectively varies the pace of his reading, and brings the different characters to life in all their cultural, experiential, emotional, and intellectual variety.
Lord Jim is a challenging audiobook, because Marlow tells a story comprised of different things he has heard from different people at different times. And although the first half or so of the novel is a compelling psychological study, I here and there found myself losing track of its discourse. But finally all the pieces cohere and culminate in a devastating and (possibly) transcendent climax. If you like The Heart of Darkness, you'd probably like Lord Jim, but you'd need to be prepared for a longer, more complex, and sadder tale.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is an outstanding reading of Lord Jim. The reader gave such an authentic and energetic presence to Marlow that I felt I was one of the listeners sitting around the meal table. Jim and Stein and Brown, and many other minor characters, are also equally authentic and present. The whole thing is so well paced and brilliantly brought to life. I got so much more out of this reading than when I read the book many years ago. The only drawback is the sound of other voices speaking in the background, but ultimately this did not spoil the wonderful experience I have had of listening to this reading over several weeks.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
Always worth a try, but it was starting to take way too long.
How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?
Can't change a story once it's been written. Nonsense question. But I think I'm going to blame the narration for this one.
What three words best describe Nigel Graham’s performance?
Highly engaged narrator
Did Lord Jim inspire you to do anything?
Look for another narrator.
Any additional comments?
I am afraid I have written a similar relatively negative review for Henry James’s Golden Bowl, brimming over with frustration at how I never got very far in the novel, blaming the narrator, and lamenting the trouble I am having with returning my misfortunate picks (I suppose, as a clumsy newcomer, I have maxed out on this deceptively generous option to return a narration you don't like, although I can’t find anywhere a limit to the amount of returns allowed).
This narrator (too) seemed (more than) fine for the book when we first set sail. But somehow - dare I spew such nonsense? - I found him too engaged, too much into his role of Marlowe. Can that be possible, that the narrator is too much the part?! Do I mean to say it turned into a self-indulgent reading? Well, it meant we were coming close to a performance rather than a narration, and then it becomes quite apparent not a lot ever happens, and the going can get really slow. Talk about halcyon days!
Already, it is debatable how credible the form of the book is, with Marlowe’s monologue far too detailed (and with multiple viewpoints) to be really a story told over cigars after dinner. It could work, however, if you don’t pay too much attention to this framing device, but with this narrator that becomes impossible. He acts the text out with great verve and I felt myself stuck on his verandah for days on end…. All good and well for a bunch of old salts, but I felt uncomfortably out of place.
In short, I became very annoyed by the narrator’s tone - but cannot fault it as a choice on how to read the text. I think I just wanted to press on to find my bearings better in the character of Jim and spend less time with Marlowe. I was about to get there, to Jim’s new life, but then I felt bad about how I had not really appreciated the language that had gone before. When not much happens in a novel, it has to boil down to how it’s told.
In all fairness, however highly acclaimed Lord Jim is supposed to be, I think I may have found it hard to enjoy because I really have nihil affinity with sailing or the high seas, or this particular period in colonial history. Especially after reading Victory, there does not seem much more to gain from Lord Jim for me. I don’t know if it’s a boy-girl divide, or the impatience of a lost-generation…. I well see, as a piece of writing, what a deft study of complex psychologies and dubious moralities it might make, but the extremely lengthy preamble to the point in which Jim becomes “Lord” was disappointing. I suppose I’ll have to venture another try one day, but then with a new voice.
I am still hoping that an audio version will launch me into Lord Jim and help me suppress the seasickness I get already from walking through puddles. But if it keeps on taking as much discipline as it has done so far, I am better off with a hard copy book.
I owe it to Conrad and Nigel Graham both, as well as to myself to spend another credit or deal on a different narrator, to see what happens with Steven Crossley or Ric Jerrom. It’s the only way to learn whether this particular novel is just not well suited to an audio rendition at all (unlikely with so many about), or in how far it really is about that magic click you find with the right narrator for you; or whether I have a really long way to go, yet, on the patience with the Classics front.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful