I was curious about the book Joan Didion claims to re-read everytime she begins a work of fiction, to remind herself of the possibilities. And my first exposure to Conrad was a good experience.
The structure of the book was of interest – interweaving various time periods and points of view. The story of a solitary man who eventually finds love unwillingly.
Part 1 shows us Heyst from the perspective of the anonymous ex-pat gentlemen who tarry at Schomberg’s hotel in the Philippines, detailing the particulars of Heyst meeting Morrison, lending him money which saves his boat, in return for which Morrison insists Heyst live on his boat. We meet the hotelier Schomberg, who has a hatred of Heyst that simmers just below the surface. The Morrison/Heyst coal partnership is explained.
Part 2 is where Heyst meets Alma (later renamed Lena, but coincidentally Alma a significant name in The History of Love, which I finished right before reading this). Alma was a musician with a troupe stationed at Schomberg’s hotel, where Heyst waited patiently for Davidson (his ride back to the secluded island). One night they talked, and he fell in love with her voice, beginning to care about her and determine to free her of her entrapment at the hotel. Schomberg’s wife, the immobile statue, helped the couple escape. Meanwhile, Schomberg’s hatred of Heyst spikes when he discovers the “theft” of the girl. This section also goes into the background detail of Heyst’s wandering life (15 years of roving). After his father’s death, Heyst tells himself “I’ll drift”. Ricardo & Mr. Jones enter the tale here, and after running an illegal card game for several weeks, Mr. Jones gets bored and is persuaded by Schomberg to pursue Heyst.
Part 3 Life on the island, we meet Wang, the houseboy of Heyst. The story picks up with the runaway couple returning to the island, where they fall into a chaste but loving relationship that begins to deepen. Mr. Jones, Ricardo & their beast (Pedro) arrive dying of thirst, so Heyst saves them then waits for his fate. Ricardo and Mr. Jones then plot to find Heyst’s hidden plunder and kill him. Ricardo also hopes to catch a glimpse of the girl, about whom Mr. Jones knows nothing, having an abnormal fear of women.
Part 4: Ricardo discovers the girl, attacks her and is repelled, causing him to fall deeply in love with her. He lures Heyst down to Mr. Jones who is planning on killing him, then goes back to talk to Lena. During Heyst’s confrontation, he lets slip about the girl, and Mr. Jones catches on to Ricardo’s dishonesty. Gunshots ring out, killing Lena, then Ricardo. A fire later consumes the house and takes away Heyst.