Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's going to be a challenge, now that I've finished Conrad's The Secret Agent, to move on to a book that's less brilliant. With a (Henry) Jamesian attention to psychological detail--and an ability to simply stop a scene and analyze it from every angle--Conrad takes a tale of would-be terrorists and anarchists and makes it into something rich and strange. At no point did I have any clear idea where the story would go, and Conrad plays at misdirection so that the tale's true protagonist (and I think it does have one) is revealed until near the end. Conrad lets us be misled even as many of the characters are misled.

The tone differs from what I remember of other Conrad works: for every character except one (plus a minor character), the narrator demonstrates outright disdain. He makes a show of revealing the thought processes of every major character, but even as he defends them, he makes them absurd. The narrative is laced with sarcasm as Conrad sets about eviscerating both anarchist and "servant of the law" alike, and such is the specificity of psychological complexity, each person is awful in a different way.

You can see how this novel sets the stage for everything Graham Greene would do with the spy narrative.

I also read Capote in Kansas (subtitled "A Drawn Novel," by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee), a graphic novel that was well done but which didn't seem to need doing. Haven't we heard this story way too many times recently? I quite enjoyed it, but its only contribution to the tale is a layer of fiction, having Capote interact, awkwardly, with the ghost of the girl who was murdered. I do now want to read Parks's Union Station, also based on actual events.

I read the first few pages of Simak's classic Way Station, but it's a deep drop from Conrad. Maybe I'll try again on Le Clezio's Desert, which started slowly (and at too much a remove from its characters for my taste).

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