“Nostromo” by Joseph Conrad

Selected nuggets from Wikipedia:

Nostromo (full title Nostromo, A Tale of the Seaboard) is a 1904 novel, set in the fictitious South American republic of “Costaguana” and particularly in its port city of Sulaco. Costaguana has a long history of tyranny, revolution and warfare, but has recently experienced a period of stability under the dictator Ribiera.

Nostromo is an Italian expatriate who has risen to his position through his bravery and daring exploits. Whilst Nostromo is respected by the wealthy Europeans of Sulaco, and has great abilities to command power among the local population, he is not admitted to upper-class society, but rather seen by the rich as their useful tool. He is believed to be incorruptible, and is entrusted with removing the silver from Sulaco to keep it from the revolutionaries. Unfortunately, Nostromo’s exploits do not bring him the fame he had hoped for, and he becomes resentful, which leads to his corruption and ultimate destruction.

We read this book in November 2013:

Nine people attended the meeting and a few more emailed comments, but few had completed the book!  Four of us had been defeated after 8 chapters or less, though Barbara still intended to finish.

Bill set the scene by providing a potted biography of the author, to illustrate his difficult and itinerant life. He also brought a copy of a painting showing Conrad at the theatre with Thomas Hardy, which led some of us to draw comparisons between the two authors (eg, Conrad’s Constaguana and Hardy’s Wessex are both fictional but seemingly based on real geography).

Even those who had enjoyed the book agreed that it was not an easy read and several people described the book as fairly “dense”.  Most thought that the jumping about of the time line was quite confusing, whilst Maddie and Malcolm both picked out the same sentence as being an example of over-long, complicated structure:

“Even when he was cooking for the ‘Signori Inglesi’ – the engineers (he was a famous cook, though the kitchen was a dark place) – he was, as it were, under the eye of the great man who had led him in a glorious struggle where, under the walls of Gaeta, tyranny would have expired for ever had it not been for that accursed Piedmontese race of kings and ministers.”

Alan and Bill spoke up for the book, arguing of its excellence in showing a whole range of character and motivation. Helen, Sallie and Jill felt too overwhelmed by the confusion within the text.

Votes ranged from 5 to 9 with an average of 6.4, but three of the non-finishers felt unable to vote and abstained, meaning that this score was derived from only seven readers.

Trivia corner:

1. Wikipedia suggests that Costaguana’s geography resembles real-life Colombia, whilst our avid reader, Bill thought it was based on Panama.

2. If the name of the book sounds strangely familiar to sci fi fans, it may be because the spacecraft in Ridley Scott’s Alien is named the Nostromo. Following this lead, the sequel film Aliens, includes a transport vessel called Sulaco.

And finally:

Each of the books at our meeting seemed to have a different cover. So what do you think would make the best cover for Nostromo? Vote below!

Nostromo cover 1: landscape

Option A

Nostromo cover 2:  Ships

Option B

Nostromo cover 3:  silver

Option C

Nostromo cover 4: Brooding men with eyebrows

Option D

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