The Mirror of the Sea

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Caspar David Friedrich - Küste bei Mondschein

With the quality of our desires, thoughts, and wonder proportioned to our infinite littleness, we measure even time itself by our own stature.

The Mirror of the Sea is a fascinating work.  I was struck by several things–one, it is nonfic that reads like a novel; two, it is a very personal book; and three, the writing is pure art.

I’ll admit, I’m biased.  As of the last year or so, Joseph Conrad (along with Hawthorne) has been the author I’ve most admired.  His thoughts and observations are profound in a perfectly down-to-earth way, without being too self-conscious or egotistic.  He never expects anything of the reader except their willingness to listen.  It is as if he understands, inherently, how to express his mind in the truest way, and convey it through, not beneath, the prose.

The Mirror of the Sea is, of course, about the sea.  Conrad alternates between personal anecdotes and deep, lengthy descriptions, with the frequent psychological aside.  It is a slow book, much like Moby-Dick.  Unlike the fictitious Ishmael, however, Conrad never seems to forget the reader.  The hint of conversational style holds your interest and makes The Mirror of the Sea perfect escapism for anybody who loves the sea.  I’m seriously disappointed that I’ve finished it already–it was my go-to book for levelheaded, relaxing reading. 

An overwhelming theme in the book is that of wooden ships versus steamships.  Conrad’s life overlapped both, and it is the source of much nostalgia in this book.  He seemed to consider himself the witness of the end of an era, and in The Mirror of the Sea, he studies how this has or will change sailors and the British Navy.

Speaking of which, the book ends with some chapters on Lord Nelson.  These chapters feels slightly out-of-place compared to the other topics, but it is interesting to read Conrad’s huge esteem for the Admiral.

Overall, I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it if the topic interests you.

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