So, here’s the first book I have to read this year. As such, forgive me if I go all English student on you. My bad. I have just had a lecture about this, let’s be fair, quite famous and controversial book. Well, controversial if you are in the book world. I don’t know about the rest of you people…
Heart of Darkness is a story within a story. While we being on the river Thames, we end up in the Congo River, in deepest darkest Africa (though maybe I’m not allowed to say that.) Marlowe, our intrepid hero, has been sent on a steamboat by ‘the Company’, in whose employ he finds himself, down the Congo River to find Mr. Kurtz, a renegade member of the Company, who is selling ivory, making a mint, and not giving the money to the Company.
The story itself is quite simple. It is Conrad’s style, however, that makes this book worthy of ‘classic’ (for want of a better word) novel status. While he is often considered a forerunner to the modernists (read: really hard to read 20th century literature), I found it to be deeply enjoyable. There are, of course, some quite dense parts, but when you read them carefully, the meaning behind them becomes clear, and really lucid.
Conrad is concerned with a whole load of things, including British colonialism, the inhabitants of Africa, and the effect this continent has on people. It is this last part that makes a real impression. On me, anyway. All of the characters (white ones, anyway) are not quite there in their head. The people running the Company in the Congo have become wild – almost reverted to their more natural, primeval states. Marlowe himself is not unaffected by this change – he also takes time to think about his own experiences in this crazy, very not-British land, and comes up with no definitive answers.
It is, however, the character of Mr. Kurtz who becomes the star of this novel. While having very little stage time, his presence and legend is woven throughout the whole (admittedly short) novel, and his journey from (assumed) normal life as a British man, into what he is at the end, is very, very important.
I’m going to refrain from getting any more technical than that, or I will start writing my assignment, and you don’t want to read that. I am, however, going to quickly talk about the controversy that surrounds this book. Famous African author, Chinua Achebe, attacked this novel in 1975, citing Conrad’s portrayal of the African people as racist. Now, I’m going to be honest, I don’t really see this. Conrad is, I think, no more racist than any other British person at the turn of the 20th century. Some of his descriptions of the native people are, let’s face it, quite shocking when you compare them to today’s world. But I wouldn’t have said racist.
Misogynistic, however… That I will give to Conrad.
Heart of Darkness is very good. It has withstood the test of the last century, and despite many other books attempting similar things (the exploration of the unknown continent, and all that) , this novel stands up as one of the best. Conrad’s characters, prose and narrative (the big three) are all going to leave a good impression. And, at less than 150 pages, it’s quick, too.