I once met a girl who was writing a thesis on Conrad. Her opinion of Nostromo was nothing if not passionate. ‘It’s like Conrad means to bore you to death,’ she recommended. ‘You must read it!’ So I did. I set out into the novel one morning and then kept on going for a couple of days, crouching by the coal fire of a scruffy student kitchen, staving off hunger with big basins of porridge.