The Return by Joseph Conrad

There aren’t many authors that can write in a second-language as successfully as Conrad has.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 75 pages.
Read on April 6, 2018.

The the last time I read Conrad I was in high school devouring Heart of Darkness, a book I should really put on my reread list. I was sauntering through the library looking for a short read to help me catch up on my reading goal when I came across this short novella.  Unlike the adventures in the Congo in Heart of Darkness this story focuses on the deeply psychological nuances of marriage.

Did you know?
Conrad was born in Poland in 1857 and English was not his native tongue. He did not speak it fluently until his twenties. There aren’t many authors that can write in a second-language as successfully as Conrad has.

It was a normal day for Alvan Hervey and as he arrived home from work he was expecting to find his wife at home, instead, he left with a letter. The letter explains that wife has left home for another man. Alvan is beyond surprised with this shocking betrayal and he starts in a downward spiral and examination of his relationship in which it becomes clear that Alvan is more concerned with appearances and what sort of shame this event will bring him.  As his frantic thoughts race, his wife interestingly returns home. She has come to tell Alvan that she has made a mistake and that her affair was never consummated. Alvan’s wife is distant and her return appears reluctant and more out of a sense of duty than anything.

“You are deceiving yourself. You never loved me. You wanted a wife – some woman – any woman that would think, speak and behave in a certain way – in a way that you approved. You loved yourself.”

The story is emotionally and psychologically driven and anyone that has ever been in an intense argument with their partner or spouse can appreciate the terse environment that is created in this extremely personal setting. This book was published in 1897 and would have offered a rare insight into the very private lives of people at the time.

By the time the novel ends, Alvan’s revelations and jealousy reaches a new height,

“Can you stand it?” and glared as if insane. Her eyes blazed, too. She could not hear the appalling clamour of his thoughts. She suspected in him a sudden regret, a fresh fit of jealousy, a dishonest desire of evasion. She shouted back angrily–

“Yes!”

He was shaken where he stood as if by a struggle to break out of invisible bonds. She trembled from head to foot.

“Well, I can’t!” He flung both his arms out, as if to push her away, and strode from the room.”

Alvan can’t cope with his own failings and revelations that there is no going back from this point in his marriage. The wife, while she has returned, has expressed her deepest needs that she feels were not being met and pointed out some harmful and hurtful truths that Alvan is having trouble digesting.

The story shows both sides of the conflict equally, the reader all seeing insight into the couple’s troubles. By the end, the reader appreciates the choices made by either side of the conflict. If only we had that kind of insight into our relationship disputes, hey?

This book is a good quick read and introduction to Conrad if you have not read him before. If you are looking for another good reason to read this book, you can also read it online for free!

Stones by Timothy Findley

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 221 pages.
Read from December 08 to 13, 2014.

There were a lot of mixed reviews on this collaboration of short stories, especially from Findley fans, but as this is my first collaboration by Findley, I stand impressed. Stones is a novel about relationships and how the effect our lives, especially some of the harder aspects in life like death and loss. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was how Findley wrote a few different stories on the same characters. What one short story lacked, the next one would pick up on, whether that was a plot detail or elaborating on a part of the character’s personality or relationships.

This book has depth. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. The book blurb on Goodreads mentions something about relationships and urban settings in the 1980’s but I don’t feel that any of these stories relate to a specific time frame but rather it’s more about the context of relationships and how they change our lives.

“Bragg and Minna” is the name of the first story in the book and of the two main characters. Their story is one of the most potent. The story opens with how Minna has died and Bragg is going to pick up her ashes. Bragg is bisexual, potentially a homosexual, but he loves Minna The two of them have their own quirks but that is what brought them together. The couple splits up shortly after they had children, one with severe mental disabilities. Bragg never wanted children but Minna came to a breaking point with the matter. After the birth of their mentally disabled daughter, Minna took the children and moved away Australia, which is where, years later, she dies . The story is filled with nostalgia and regret as Bragg makes the long trip over to claim her ashes.

The following story, “Gifts of Mercy”, detail how Minna and Bragg met. This story makes the last one even more tragic.

From here, each story revolves around a new tragic character. From a professor inspecting a mask, a man suffering from PTSD as a result of WWII and the effects it has on his family, to a disturbing but fascinating read about a pair of married psychiatrists whose patient’s dreams start to become a horrifying reality for one of them.

The stories are so different in tone. Some are tragic, some border on horror and others are more nostalgic but all of them revolve around the intrinsic relationships that we make in our daily lives.  Overall a great compilation of short stories that I’d recommend to just about anyone.