Conrad's Fate (with spoilers)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon May 16 16:19:28 EDT 2005


>Spoiler space
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I wrote
>>I'm glad someone (thanks Jennifer) has pointed out that he is only 12, as
>>well: I think it may be a little unfair to castigate a child that age as an
>>idiot for failing to question what his only adult "carer" has been telling
>>him since he was 8.  Given that his mother is a complete non-parent and
>>waste of space, so busy being a feminist that she has no time to do
>>anything for the children she's produced, and his sister has escaped and
>>left him in charge of all the housework, I think he's done a reasonably
>>good job of bringing himself up so far, and I can't really blame him for
>>taking his uncle's word for things, particularly when the other
>>authority-figures in his world back his uncle up.
>>
>>He may be a bit unsympathetic, but abused children often don't sparkle very
>>much.

and Robyn replied
>I'd concede this point in a book written by anyone other than dwj. She
>has lots of protagonists and other characters who come from similar
>situations, and none of them is dull or thick in the way Conrad is.

I have a feeling that the balance of the book actively requires that Conrad
form a matte background against which Christopher can corruscate, myself.
Besides which Conrad isn't too thick to observe things acutely -- even if
he doesn't then spend ages wondering about them all over the page, or
giving us Authorial Hints.  There's a small example of this early on, when
first it's "a couple of gypsy caravans" parked at the gate, and then
someone gets out of the middle caravan ("I hadn't noticed there were three
before") and then all five caravans drive away, and then all six.  He
notices.  He doesn't draw any conclusions, but he does observe accurately;
and that's his function (at the end that is made very clear indeed).  It
makes me wonder whether what DWJ is up to is giving us a *reliable*
narrator, in a way, but making us do the work of picking up the clues in
his narration.  Is this a detective novel, in a sideways manner?

It feels right to me that he should be somewhat detached from things, in
any case.  As far as he knows, he is either going to die within a year, or
he is going to have to commit murder, and the murder of someone he doesn't
even know and against whom he has no animus in the present lifetime; it
doesn't throw me out that in such circumstances, he isn't bright and bubbly
and bouncing all over the page Expressing Himself.  Remembering how
loathesome Christopher is from the viewpoints of all around him, much of
the time, when he is dealing with a similar (though far less horrible) set
of circumstances, I find Conrad rather endearing than otherwise.

Not to mention that for at least half the book Conrad (like his mother, and
quite unlike Christopher) is under a tangled web of small spells designed
to make him unquestioningly do what his uncle wants him to do.  That's made
clear just before he summons the Walker.  If one looks carefully, there's a
clue for that as early as the last sentence of Chapter 3.  The number of
times Conrad says things like "That was odd, but I didn't think of it at
the time" ought to be ringing little alarm bells from very early on.  He
observes, but he doesn't *notice*, and I think that DWJ may actually have
done something rather brilliant, in that this is perceived as him being
"dull" and "thick" rather than ensorcelled: she is giving us a narrator who
is under enchantment designed to make him appear a dimwit, and that's what
we see.

Or to put it another way, oh boy talk about "show not tell"!

After the Walker has happened at him he starts to be more initiative-full,
anyhow: his reactions to for instance Lady Mary are really pretty
on-the-ball, quite unlike his woolliness earlier in the book, and I love
his quiet coniving to give her mother a chance to sneak some chocolates
without her horrible daughter noticing.  And he makes his getaway really
quite sensibly, for an idiot, and manages not to get trapped until he's
rescued Millie and reunited her with Christopher.

Minnow


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