by Joseph Conrad
Modern Library #85, Guardian 1000 Novels
The story of Lord Jim is told largely through a frame story, with Charles Marlow, an alter-ego of Conrad that appears in a few of his works, relating the tale of the titular character in person and, towards the end of the book, in a letter. Many works - Absalom, Absalom!, for one - employ the frame story as a narrative technique. Since the frame story embeds the main narrative as a story within a story, it often becomes a meditation on storytelling itself, prompting the reader to ask questions like, "Who is narrating? Why is he telling the story? What is he leaving out (by ignorance or intentionally) that might be germane?"
Marlow's narration consumes the first 80% or so of the story, at which point he has told the story as far as he knows at the time. At this point, Conrad seems to offer a meditation on unfinished stories:
... the last image of that incomplete story, its incompleteness itself, and the very tone of the speaker, had made discussion in vain and comment impossible. Each of them seemed to carry away his own impression, to carry it away with him like a secret ...Conrad then offers a take on the phenomenon of writing and reading:
That was all then - and there will be nothing more; there will be no message, unless such as each of us can interpret for himself from the language of facts, that are so often more enigmatic than the craftiest arrangement of words.Marlow then proceeds to grace one particular listener (and, by extension, the reader) with the remainder of the tale via letter. This closes the loop on the main narrative and makes for a more satisfying story. Does it take away from the meta-fictional musings quoted above? Maybe philosophically, but I think they stand on their own.