Thursday, August 10, 2006

book of books - Heart of darkness

This book by Joseph Conrad is so well known for the film apocalypse Now and there are several things taken from the book - Kurtz and "the horror, the horror" - that stayed in the film. As is usual though the book is better than the film and it feels darker because you are left to fill in the blanks with your own imagination.

Plot summary
The story starts being told by a sailor on a boat on the Thames (Marlow) who tells his other crew members about how he had to go into the Heart of darkness to pick up a man running an ivory collecting station in Africa. Having picked up Kurtz, who was leading a disturbed existence and had gone mad by conventional standards, they drift back down the river with Kurtz's strength ebbing away until he dies. Marlow then goes and meets his fiance and tells her that Kurtz's last words were her name, rather than "the horror,the horror".

Is it well written?
It is a book that is able to convey light and mood in a consistent way that I have not come across before. It takes the reader in and as you go up river it gets increasingly unusual - with broken down huts and arrow attacks - and when they get to Kurtz's inner station with the heads on poles it is obvious they have arrived at somewhere very dark indeed. That darkness never seems to leave Marlow and in turn is spread to the rest of the crew and the book ends with a second narrative point of view concluding that the sea they are going on leads also into the darkness.

Is it worth reading?
It is a book that totals around 100 pages, but for all that it is so deep in colour, images and story movement that you have to really concentrate on every page. Those people who liked the film will see that the biggest thing that Conrad provided was a sense of mood. The only issue that some people might have is that unless you understand about colonialism and the brutality of that way of life a lot of the undercurrents of the book will be missed. Versions of the book without an introduction for that reason are probablt best avoided.

Leads to
In my case I am going for another journey into Africa type book - A burnt-out case by Graham Greene. The stepping stones towards Heart of Darkness include A Journey to the end of the night by Louis-Ferdninand Celine.

Version read - Penguin Twentieth Century Classics

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