Monday, August 04, 2008

The Return | Joseph Conrad

Since I'm going on vacation on next Saturday (for about 2 weeks), I figured I would read August's book club selection. At only 74 pages, this wasn't a daunting task... but the read was not something that could be easily accomplished without complete silence. So while "Freakonomics" was read by the lake, "The Return" was read in the condo. Let me take this opportunity to say that the lake was noisier due to an obnoxious dog owner, which I will speak no further about.

"The Return" is about a man who comes home to find a note from his wife, stating that she has left him for another man. In the midst of his head-spinning turmoil, she returns... and then the heart of darkness unfolds (note: drastically forced pun-intended).

This story is all about the mental trials and tribulations one goes through when they receive one of these Dear John letters. However, in the midst of this, Conrad pokes fun of English society and people who are concerned with appearances more than with love. Conrad's protagonist (if you can call him that), Alvan Hervey, is unfeeling - and likes it that way. However, he continually tries to convince himself that he is in love with his wife, and has been throughout the course of their 5-year marriage. Hervey continually asks himself if he could live the rest of his life with a person that he feels he no longer knows. This question is answered, at the end of the book.

Conrad portrays women to be mysterious, and not a lot is uncovered as to Herveys wife's motives (although based on the thoughts and opinions of Hervey, you could probably deduce with a strong probability of being correct). From what I read, Conrad is notorious for not delving into the minds of his female characters. I'm not sure if the point of view of the wife would have aided the story or not.

Conrad does have an amazing vocabulary. That being said, except for the use of dialogue, he tries too hard. While I understood what was happening, it seemed to me that in his attempt to dazzle me with his artistic skills, he also had the effect of throwing me into quicksand to watch my reaction to it. I made it through, despite the wriggling, and continued my efforts through the next 50 pages or so.

Conrad himself did not know what to make of this book, and I must be honest, I don't really know yet either. While he did a commendable job detailing the thoughts of someone on the verge of losing everything he ever knew, I think that others have done it better. "Notes from Underground" by Dostoevsky accomplished much more, with much less.

I found I was not that interested in the story as a whole, but that I liked the ending and the details of some of Hervey's thoughts. Overall, I'd give the story a 3 out of 5. This being the third book I've read by Conrad (the other's being "The Secret Sharer" and "The Heart of Darkness"), I have yet to find anything transcendent. However, all are fairly enjoyable books... but it was obvious that in "The Return", Conrad was taken away from his passion... which is, the sea.

While I commend Conrad's attempt at new subject matter, I feel he could have done a lot more with this story.

Note: I have a feeling that a book club discussion on this one will be very interesting, and the book was full of symbolism and ideals which are ripe for debate. Thoughts and opinions on morality, could prove interesting.

1 comment:

Marian said...

I just started following your blog, and have enjoyed reading your reviews. I hadn't heard of "The Return" before, but I love Conrad. I would recommend "Under Western Eyes" or "The Shadow-Line"--they are both fairly short, but well worthwhile.