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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Nostromo: Possibly the most densely plotted novel I've ever read

After a horrific account of the death of the unfortunate stow-away Hirsch - shot to death in a fit of anger by the steamship captain who believes (mistakenly) that Hirsch has been lying to him and knows where teh silver bullion has been hidden - Conrad very amusingly shifts the narrative a few years forward and he makes the garrulous and somewhat pompous Captain Mitchell a sort of tour guide, addressing us as if we are visitors to Castaguana, as he shows us the sites and gives us a bit of history: Sulaco is now the capital of a very prosperous independent country of Occidental Castaguana, which successfully protected the Gould silver mine and fended off the peasant rebellion. So we now are looking back on the history of the country from a future vantage point. We know that part of the success of the Occidental independence movement - first enunciated by the journalist Decoud whom we'd last seen hiding with the silver bullion on one of the remote Isabel islands - came about because the steamship captain became convinced of and obsessed by the theory that the silver was spilled into the gulf when his ship collided with the lighter that he spends days dredging the water, obsessed like Ahab, on his foolish quest. What we don't know is: what happened to Nostromo, what happened to Decoud, what finally happened to the silver bullion. And what I don't know is how anyone keeps the plot details straight - this is a densely plotted a novel as I've ever read, and I think readers, at least first-time readers, either need some kind of crib sheet or plot outline as they read through the novel or else maybe the message is just forget about the plot and read it for the beautiful and the exciting passages, taking them as isolated gems of short fiction, and leave the rest to fall as it may.

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