Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Brief Review of Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer"

The Secret SharerThe Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my all-time favorite authors is Joseph Conrad. His exploration of the human condition as reflected by the men who toil at sea is as profound as any philosophical dissertation by any name philosopher. His theme is man against nature or man against men, His yarns are full of events both in the inner and outer worlds of journeyers at sea or water. "The Heart of Darkness" of course is essential to his success and esteem as an author/adventurer. But he has many other tales that I've read and appreciated. Foremost among them is "The Secret Sharer". This is a tale about a newbie captain who is piloting a ship somewhere in the Far East. He is not very popular with his men. To complicate matters, he willingly shelters a stowaway, a chief mate of another ship, the Sephora. the man is accused of killing an insolent crew member.   The captain develops an affinity to him, hides him from search parties, and eventually maneuvers the ship close to an island so that the "secret sharer" could escape. Conrad's language is dense and somewhat wordy, but if you've paid close attention, by the time you've finished reading the tale,  you felt like you've been in that ship with the captain and the escapee. What really made this story resonate with me is that the setting, the Gulf of Siam, is a place that I have been to, and the island that the chief mate escapes to thanks to a risky maneuver by the captain, is named Koh-ring, which is similar to islands I've visited  such as Koh-Samui. That the captain was willing to risk his ship to get close to the dangerous shoals of a tropical island is something that I would question, but in the context of the story and his alienation from his own crewmembers, one I could understand. Reading this story, I could smell the salt air,feel the warm, damp tropical wind and hear the plashing of the waves against the hull of the ship. As I read the final lines, I told myself: "I've been there. I've been there."

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