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"The Secret Sharer" by Joseph Conrad

In college I had to read The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad twice.  And write a paper on it both times.  I hated the novella.  Hated. It.  I wrote the first paper for an introduction to literary criticism class, and for the school of criticism that I chose I could pretty much write about how I got nothing out of the story and why I got nothing out of it, and that's what I wrote about.  Now I had to read The Secret Sharer for a graduate class for library school--just when I thought I would never, ever have to read another Joseph Conrad anything ever again.  So that's just a little background for this review for The Secret Sharer also written by Joseph Conrad.  I didn't hate The Secret Sharer as much I came to hate The Heart of Darkness, but that's not really an endorsement either.

In The Secret Sharer the unnamed narrator has been recently appointed to command a ship, but he doesn't know why (seriously?), and he doesn't know the crew, and he doesn't know the ship, and he just doesn't seem up to the task of commanding a crew and a ship.  Is this partially due to youth?  Inexperience?  Lack of confidence?  Who knows.  But dude better get with the program.

One night the narrator takes night watch to give his crew some much needed shut eye (an action that surprises the crew).  This is when he discovers a headless, naked corpse (you read that right) in the water.  Only the headless corpse turns out to be a (still naked) man who is very much alive.  Despite the man's sketchy appearance and shady questions, the narrator allows him aboard the ship without alerting the crew.  As soon as the man's aboard ship the narrator starts identifying with the naked man, Leggat, offers him a set of his own clothes, repeatedly refers to him as his "double" and his "twin," and slides into the decision to hide the man in his captain's quarters.

If Leggat's confessions of murder and escape from detention on his nearby disabled ship neither raise the narrator's suspicions nor alarm him, they sure do raise red flags all over the place for the reader.  Instead the captain inexplicably refrains from interrogating the stowaway and then hides the man in his cabin willfully keeping Leggat's presence from the rest of the crew. (And now the captain's acting sketchy.)  The ordeal with the double whom the narrator proceeds to actively aid, abet, and hide at all costs is oddly the circumstance that finally makes him assert his leadership of the vessel

I'm a little dumbfounded as to why the narrator would see fit to harbor a naked fugitive who confesses to murder aboard his ship after escaping the brig on his own ship.  WHY.  The narrator hides the man at all costs, risks the welfare of the ship and its crew and his own career to help a man he does not even know is telling the truth.  I don't know about ya'll, but I wouldn't trust the narrator as the captain of any ship I was on.  I'd take my chances on the lifeboat.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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