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The Secret Sharer Paperback – July 18, 2011
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The narrator is a young captain who was recently given his first command, taking a ship that he does not know, with a crew that he does not know, from Bangkok back to England. Only the 2nd mate is younger than the captain, and he is an unpleasant know-all, while the chief mate is a somewhat dumb older fellow. The whole population on board is skeptical about the new boss. That's what he thinks.
And then he has his first real crisis right after leaving Bangkok, having been tugged out of the river to the sea, where the ship lies at anquor, waiting for winds to take it to the South through the Gulf of Siam. A Liverpool steamer lies nearby, and at night a runaway from that ship comes to our hero: the former 2nd mate of the steamer has been under arrest for killing a sailor in a fight. He has escaped and looks for help. Inexplicably, our narrator decides to help, hiding the escapee in his cabin, which heightens the tension between him and his crew, since he needs to behave funny to avoid detection.
The 'secret sharer' is in every respect a 'double' of the captain: age, education, looks, attitudes. The captain decides to help him get away by keeping him on board and taking him to land further South. In order to do that he has to give ununderstandable instructions to his crew, who think he is crazy and will lose the ship.
Which he very nearly does. This is about sailing too close to land. A metaphor for many comparable situations when there are conflicting objectives.
At the time that Conrad decided to write "Sharer," he was working on a long, tense novel about Russia ("Under Western Eyes") that had nothing to do with the sea. It's a very fine novel, but Conrad suffered so much in scratching it out that the experience might have shortened his life. By contrast, he wrote "Sharer" with the greatest of ease, and it's almost perfect. Conrad had been a Merchant Service captain himself (which is how he happened to add English to his native Polish and near-native French), and it may be that he was more comfortable when the conflict was in his element, aboard ship.
At any rate, the "The Secret Sharer" raises questions that critics still don't agree on. One of them is simply whether the young captain is only imagining his secret guest. You be the judge, but I think there's a clear answer to that question. Above anything else, the story is exciting. It's long for a short story — almost a novella — but you might well find yourself reading it all in one sitting. If you like intelligent, vivid suspense, you're bound to enjoy this experience. The story can be read again and again, revealing new perfections each time.
"The Secret" finds Conradreturning to the sea after a long absence and has much of the suspense and adventurous spirit of his early works. Indeed, it may well be his most suspenseful and conventionally entertaining work of all; its influence on later writers is easy to see. This is so much so that it can be enjoyed by nearly anyone on this surface level, but as always with Conrad, there is deep symbolic value. "The Secret" again dramatizes outsider status, though more subtly and ambiguously than prior works like "Amy." It also deals with other important themes, including the clash of rules and personal morality, authority vs. individualism, etc. Reading it alone has the virtue of leading one to more Conrad, but why not just get more along with it?
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It is short but concise. Read it after reading THE