Two more books on the ‘read’ list: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad and The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant.
Lord Jim was interesting – a very dense book. It begins so beautifully, with a third-person narrative. I tend to think that it’s the strongest part of the book. It then switches to Marlow’s telling of Jim’s story – the disgraced naval officer and his attempts to make something of his life.
Marlow, you might recall, is the narrator of Heart of Darkness. You get a sense of familiarity from this, if you’ve read that, and though I enjoy Marlow’s voice, I craved more of that third person telling. An interesting book, about the wreck of a man’s life, and the remaking of it. Recommended, but it’s a slow read.
The Pawnbroker is a contemporary novel. Very different, though also very much about the wreck of a man’s life and the remaking of it. It’s about a Holocaust survivor, Sol Nazerman, who now makes a living working as a pawnbroker in New York (and laundering money for the Mafia). It’s a deeply tragic and sad story throughout; but intensely meaningful and rich. What kind of life is there, after the Holocaust? What life can be made?
“All right, all right, I know what hurts her. I hear all of them screaming again. What does she want from me? Can’t she see that I am weeping for her, that I am weeping for all of them now! Who asked for it? So maybe I love all of them, does it do any good? Doesn’t that make it worse?”
It’s not so much a story of redemption as it is a story of remaking, I suppose. It’s a tough read – not for dense language, but for the difficulty of the subject. Interesting, Wallant was an ad-man in the 60s when he wrote it – an art director during the day, and writing at night (yes, I thought of Mad Men when I read this).
Such a contrast between books. Lord Jim is about a man whose life is ruined by the cowardly choices he makes as he abandons ship. The Pawnbroker is about a life ruined by a lack of choice, by the choices of others who cruelly abandon humanity and morality. But in both, there is a finding, a remaking, an overcoming.
Both recommended. The ninety-first and ninety-second books I’ve read this year, and I enjoyed them both, but for very different reasons.