A couple days ago I finished Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and over the last few days I have been letting it digest in my brain. I decided to read this book because while I’ve always wanted to watch Apocalypse Now I’ve just never been able to make it through the movie. I figured I’d read the book that inspired it instead. Heart of Darkness is a short, easy read that I found extremely enjoyable. The book is narrated by Charles Marlow, a sailor, as he recounts his journey down an African river into the Congo as a Captain of a steamboat. The entire book is basically Marlow describing this journey to some other men one night. There are only a handful of times where Marlow stops telling his story to make a comment or to interact with one of the listeners. Otherwise the book is basically one giant quote. Now I consider myself fairly well-read but I can’t remember another book that I have read that relies this much on straight narration by the main character. (Now you might say well any book that has a narrator is relying on the narrator. But HoD is different, I think, because almost the entirety of the book is a quote and it feels like listening to a ghost story next to a camp fire, which is much different than a book like The Great Gatsby. That’s just my opinion though.)
The symbolism in HoD is pretty straight up and hard to miss. The book centers on Marlow’s mission to go find Mr. Kurtz deep in the Congo. The further down the river he travels the darker it gets, much like Dante but in a more literal sense. Along the way Conrad alludes to the darkness of the continent, the Native Africans, the Colonial enterprise, and humanity in general. Throughout the book I kept waiting for some dramatic reveal about Mr. Kurtz or Africa or something but there isn’t anything like that. The journey down the river is the point. The end is incidental to tue journey-which makes sense when you finish the book.
The book is definitely worth picking up and reading, if only to get a sense at some of the practices and attitudes that were prevalent during the colonization of Africa. So if you’re looking for a good book to occupy your time for a day at the beach or a car ride you could do much worse than picking Heart of Darkness.
Next up Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson. I’m about 150 pages into and so far I’m extremely impressed with it.