14 October 2011

False Readings

Many years ago, in a search for direction with literary studies, I read a guide which recommended Madame Bovary as one of the greatest romantic love stories. I dashed out and bought a copy, and couldn't understand the disjunction between what I was looking for and what was being delivered. It was anything but romantic. I was reading the right novel - but with the wrong preconceptions. Flaubert wrote it as an anti-romantic novel. The same thing happened when I read Moby Dick, commended by the same guide as 'a gripping chase of the Great White Whale'. After six hundred pages, I was wondering when this chase would ever begin.

And now fifty years later, the same thing has just happened in reverse. I decided to re-read Joseph Conrad's famous novella The Secret Sharer, got my copy of a well-edited text from Amazon, and started making notes on 'the double', ambiguities of 'sharing', youthful maturing experiences, and so on. But I was puzzled by the amount of time it was taking the escaping swimmer Leggat to appear alongside. I was half way through the book, and the captain had only just boarded his new command. Then I realised I was reading not The Secret Sharer but The Shadow Line. Right approach - wrong book. Doh!

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