A Bit of Slog to Start

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (2011. Tantor Audible. ISBN 978-1853261749)

I’m a Conrad fan. Victory. Heart of Darkness, his short stories. I’ve read and loved them all. But I hadn’t heard of, much less listened to, Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, until my book club picked it as the January selection. Again, given I’ve been spending rehab time at the Y track in Hermantown, I chose to listen, rather than read, this novel. After many hours on the track, with the weights, and on the exercise bike, here’s my take.

The headline says it as succinctly as I can. If this was a debut novel, given it takes the first one-third of the book before the story begins to pique one’s interest, I’m not sure a modern day first-time novelist could get this story published. I’ve been told that editors/agents in this hurly-burly world give a book-at most-five pages, to make a favorable impression. Here, if that test is applied to Nostromo, the novel would be doomed. But it isn’t. Why? Because Conrad wasn’t some neophyte handing an agent or an editor his first manuscript. By 1904, when this book hit the shelves, Conrad, whose remarkable personal story deserves an entire book itself, Heart of Darkness, Typhoon, and Conrad’s other noteworthy works of fiction had already made their marks, meaning Conrad had the attention of the world’s readers when Nostromo debuted.

This is a very complex novel in terms of multiple characters, including the title actor, Nostromo, the leader of the the longshoremen in the fictional port town of Sulaco, in the Occidental Province, in the nation of Costagauna (a stand-in for Columbia). But the plot itself is relatively simple and straight forward once Nostromo is introduced and the action begins. Again, patience is required for a reader to meet up with the dashing former Italian sailor, who, while admired by everyone in the port city for his pluck, bravery, and daring-a-do, is not one of the city’s elites.

A revolution is taking place. A rebel army is threatening. The region surrounding the port is home to a productive silver mine and Nostromo is charged with captaining a boatload of silver away from the rebels’ hands. I won’t spoil the plot here by divulging what becomes of the sailor, his companion, or the treasure. I’ll leave it to you to turn the pages and come to the book’s conclusion before making up your own mind up about whether, as some contemporaries of Conrad opined, this is best work.

All things considered, worth the listen or the read.

4 stars out of 5



About Mark

I'm a reformed lawyer and author.
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