on 13 February 2008
Some readers seem to have difficulty with this short novel. It's certainly not easy reading (Conrad never is, though I love his prose style), but is a challenging, thought-provoking and highly absorbing character study. The journey is as much into a mind breaking down as it is a physical journey down the Congo River. I found it richly rewarding (both the 1st time and when I read it again recently). It probably says more, in a short space, than any other novel about human existence, civilization and human excesses (with the possible exception of "The Fall" by Albert Camus). Powerful stuff - if you like a strong poison then try it (and then check out Conrad's great full-length novels: "Lord Jim", "Nostromo" and "Under Western Eyes").
on 18 January 2011
This review is specifically about the Kindle edition of The Heart of Darkness, and more specifically:
# Publisher: Public Domain Books (9 Jan 2006)
# Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
# ASIN: B000JQU7A8
Reviews between editions seem to be frequently amalgamated and so it is important to note this is about the free (at time of writing) version.
Please also note that this review is about the 'edition', not the actual story itself and is therefore no reflection on Conrad's writing.
Having made myself clear on what I am reviewing (hopefully!) then my opinion is this:
Download some samples of other versions and pay some small amount for a better text. I struggled with half of this version before resorting to the actual book that I already owned. There are two major problems:
1. The style of writing and the protagonist Marlow's delivery makes very frequent use of dashes (en or em rules). This Kindle edition uses double hyphens, viz --, with no spaces, as in 'There were cases of them down at the coast--cases--piled up--burst--split!', which makes reading awkward and detracts from the narrative style.
2. Carriage returns are used frequently in error and seemingly at random. It is possible to identify new paragraphs as they are correctly indented but, having a line finishing after the first word for example, implies the end of a paragraph. However, the non-indented start of the next line shows that the text was meant to be continuous. Checking several examples with the Penguin text edition shows that these frequent carriage returns are, indeed, in error.
This edition is not recommended for reading on the Kindle.
on 25 November 2010
What struck me about Conrad's tale was the richness of his descriptions. The way he combines words in a highly unorthodox way succeeds in giving sections of the work a very disturbing feel to them. I suspect this stems from English being Conrad's third language. In any case, it gives the text an unpredictable tenor that keeps the reader in a state of unease, just as the author intended.
The themes are no less profound. I particularly enjoyed Conrad's critique of Western civilization - comparing the tribesmen with the supposedly superior whites and comparing the Congo with the Thames of 1000 years ago.
For all its virtues, this book is quite disorientating and requires careful reading. At several points I had to reread pages to determine who was talking to whom. In particular, the point at which Kurtz finally makes his appearance is (perhaps intentionally) skimmed over without fanfare. I feel that another read or two is in order.
This Penguin Classics edition comes with some extras. Some, like the analysis of changes made between the typescript and the book, are for enthusiasts only. Others, such as the timeline and explanatory notes are essential to any reader. It's a slim volume that is appropriately sombre-looking.
A genuine classic.
on 19 January 2000
With this novella Joseph Conrad brutally rips away the barriers that men build to hide themselves and exposes the evil that lurks in all men's hearts, waiting for an opportunity to get out.kurtz sails away into the dark continent full of ambition to build a bright shining society where men will be Gods. The result is unspeakable evil. What actually happens the reader never knows. They are just invited to look at the battered result of Kurtz's ambition. Marlowe returns and visits the now dead Kurt's fiancee, but is unable to tell her the truth about her beloved and makes up some romantic tale to spare her feelings. Nowadays Conrad is vulnerable to accusations of racism as he uses Africa to represent the dark continent. As always the politically correct have completely missed the pooint. The evil was in Kurtz, as it is in all men, not in Africa. And Conrad was exposing the wickednesss of colonolism which he was vehemently against, which anyone could find out if they read his works closely. In fact he was not a racist but years ahead of his time.
on 30 August 2009
At the very dawn of the 21st century, the front page of a major UK broadsheet newspaper (The Daily Telegraph), summed up the previous 100 years as "the century of 'Heart of Darkness' and 'The Waste Land'". Yes, this short novel, actually first published (I think) in 1899, presciently captures the horrors that are to come once "civilized" men of the industrialized West gain dominion over the Earth. I first read this book about 25 years ago - and, as a callow youth, I barely understood a word of it. Yet its symbolism enthralled me and I have been compelled to return to it 4 or 5 times since, each time gaining a deeper insight into what Conrad, through his imperfect narrator Marlow, is struggling to say. The writing is superb, the themes immense, and the setting in Africa's dark heart (counterpointed with the scenes on the Thames) sensational. One day I hope to emulate Graham Greene and reread the book while travelling up the Congo by boat. But I know I must be prepared for a dark, dark journey... and one that fails to reach a neat and tidy conclusion.
I'm sure many readers will, like me, find this a difficult read, the prose almost as dense and impenetrable as the jungle that Marlowe travels down in order to find his truth. Still, having only read it through once, I did get enough out of it to believe that further study will reveal some profound light in the heart of darkness. At only 100 odd pages, it does seem to have been designed by the author to be returned to again and again, small enough to swallow, but needing longer to fully digest.
Some passages are genuinely quite unnerving, with a sense successfully conveyed of a man who has cut away the veneer of civilisation, looked into the soul of humanity, and seen something truly disturbing. In short, this book is about nihilism, about the flimsy and shifting world of language that alone seperates humanity from the other animals (but only in a delusory sense). The power of Kurtz is almost wholly cast by his words, a potency maintained even whilst barely existing as a decaying, dying body. The story juxtaposes the power of language, through the dense tale spun by Marlowe of the mythical but ultimately physically insubstantial Kurtz, with the raw natural savagery of the African jungle and its muscular and visceral inhabitants. Language is what seperates the human from the animal, but in the heart of darkness, language, and through it civilisation, is revealed to be a false god created ultimately to serve animal passions.
Moreover, the novel contains the message that when man tries to shed his 'civilising' light on those judged to be savages, he merely succeeds in laying bare the moral emptiness of his own soul. Something to think about and to fruitfully connect with the war in Iraq, just as others did with Vietnam.
on 6 March 2014
This is a very interesting book written with an almost hallucinogenic imagination. Conrad must be a bit feverish when he wrote the book as a result of some tropical disease from Africa. There is no shortage of metaphors and similes suggesting the vile and sinister sensations of living in a macabre land of the unknown, `no joy in the brilliance of sunshine,' as he put it. Nightmarish scenes are omnipresent, every sound signifies an alarm of danger, and every sight evokes feelings of disgust and fear. Conrad shows an extraordinary talent in his use of English vocabulary to add mood and atmosphere to his description of places and situations, accentuating the detrimental effect of the tropical environment, i.e. the heat, vegetation, animals, etc. to the mental and physical health of men. His choice of words is particularly strong in the realm of doom and gloom.
`The horror! The horror!' these are the final words of Kurtz, the hero (or anti-hero) of this book. Kurtz, a 19th century European trader, who had 'gone native' in Congo of West Africa, was regarded by the local tribal people as their God. But did he love them? We only found out at the end of his life about his true feelings towards these people who worshipped him, `Exterminate the brutes!' he said with such disgust. It is possible that he was referring to the cannibals as `brutes'. But it is hinted in the novel that Kurtz himself, while mingling with the natives, had probably participated in their cannibalistic feast. We get the feeling that he had since gone insane from the experience. Who wouldn't? He had contracted 'brain malaria' from eating human flesh!
Kurtz is a mystery, a mythology. Throughout the novel, there is hardly any clear depiction of Kurtz apart from the scene of his death. We only get glimpses of his personality from remarks made by other people who knew him. So who was Kurtz? Was he a solitary madman, a sad misanthrope who rejected European civilization and preferred to live with the natives and act as their protector and saviour? Was he a religious nut trying to civilize and humanize the `savages' with his own belief? Or was he just another ruthless colonial adventurer who dominated and manipulated the `simple' tribal people through his ingenuity and scheming? The answer is not entirely clear until we read part of his report on the 'Suppression of Savage Customs' (p.70).
The film 'Apocalypse Now' was supposedly based on this book with the story transposed to Vietnam in the 20th century. But my recommendations would go to 'Aguirre - Wrath of God' (1972) by Werner Herzog, and 'Queimada - Burn!'(1969) by Gillo Pontecorvo. Both these films made interesting statements on Colonialism.
Everyone probably knows the plot basics of Heart of Darkness and that it inspired the scenario for the Vietnam-war movie Apocalypse Now - if with a significant degree of adaptation. The narrator, Marlow, an English seaman, tells the story of his journey up an unnamed river that can only be the Congo. At the end of the trip awaits him the famous and infamous Kurtz, both master and slave to the brutal trade that is taking place in the depths of an uncharted jungle. 'The horror! The horror!' will be Kurtz's parting words. For both victim and executioner, he has only been able to accept the terrible violence that European exploitation expects of its henchmen by becoming a local blood-cult figure, by bending to his will the forest's darkest, most secret primeval practices.
The awesome strength of Heart of Darkness is in its simplicity. This is a short novella that does not dwell on or get lost in sub-plots. Marlow simply tells his story after the fact, as dusk settles on the Thames over the group of amateur sailors that is his audience. Joseph Conrad's purpose is likewise straightforward: to show us the conflict between the violent animal in man and rationality, and the impulse to do good. Fitting, moreover, with a contemporary art scene that was discovering African and island art, this upends conventional notions of civilization and humanity. The book's appeal is timeless, and it is a classic, told in deceptively straightforward yet effective terms.
But Conrad's masterpiece, published in 1902, also is an invaluable testimony in the historical sense. Though country names are left out, it is clear that the story takes place in the Belgian Congo, then the territory of the secretive Congo Free State, actually a corporation in the ownership of the Belgian king. The only difference is that the colonial undertaking was killing and causing deaths on an epic scale in the search for natural rubber, whereas in Heart of Darkness it is ivory. Conrad, having long been a seaman, had great credibility. At the time of publication, the Congo Free State was trying to fend-off a campaign to expose its terrible crimes by the journalist E.D. Morel. Conrad was taking a courageous stand. His descriptions of the colonialists are not kind. And this is, in many places, is an openly anti-racist novel. The Congo Free State's appalling exploitation of the Congo has been described in Adam Hochschild's book Leopold's Ghost (1999). Though the numbers Hochschild advances for the number of Africans killed are contested, the methods and nature of the exploitation carried out in the Congo are not.
on 27 November 2006
Heart of Darkness is Conrad's study of the potential for evil that we all possess; in some it bubbles closer to the surface than others and the removal of societal constraints can give it free reign; Kurtz is representative of such a person while Marlow acts as a counter-weight to him. The boat voyage along the river is a metaphor for this journey from the light of civilisation into darkness, and is superbly narrated by the main protagonist Marlow.
Heart of Darkness is a very short book (72 pages in this edition) but the breadth of its content is equivalent to some books ten times its length; this conciseness, and the particular narrative style are what give this book such a wonderful feel. I have to admit I struggled with the style on occasion especially were it flips from its mainly first-person narration to third-person without warning, but the whole effect is astounding.
I wish I had read this book 20+ years ago because I found that I was often relating both the style and events back to "Apocalypse Now", a wonderful film and not a great detractor, but I always find it unfortunate when the "film version" imposes itself onto the book so strongly.
Overall then an excellent book that everyone should read - it's not going to take up a large chunk of your life but will certainly add something to it.
First published in 1899, Conrad’s celebrated novella “Heart of Darkness” uses the device of one tale book-ended within another. In this case, as sunset precedes the descent of darkness over the London Thames, Marlow begins to narrate to his colleagues on deck reminiscences of a visit to the snake-like river of central Africa, which has fascinated him since childhood. His task is to captain a steamboat on what is clearly the Congo. After repairing his damaged boat, he is sent to collect the mysterious ivory-trader Kurtz who is rumoured to be sick. The model for Coppola’s famous film “Apocalypse Now”, Kurtz proves an ambiguous figure. Is he criticised for having “lost his values” out of widespread envy for his commercial success? The natives seem to revere him as a kind of god, but there is evidence that he hates them.
At first, I took the book to be an indictment of the colonialism which exploited and degraded the Africans for imperial influence and commercial gain. Then I became uneasy at the evidence of stereotyping and a certain contempt for the natives. The story has a surreal, dreamlike quality, at one point the steamer is actually stranded in a heavy fog. Some descriptions are very striking, say of the bends in the river cut off from the rest of the world as the forests close in ahead and behind. Others passages seem disjointed and oddly phrased, reflecting the fact that English was Conrad’s third language so that, although remarkably expressive, words are not always used accurately.
I wondered at the time if the book is troubling for African readers, so was interested to find that it has been criticized in postcolonial studies, particularly by the highly regarded Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who in his 1975 public lecture "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness", described Conrad's novella as "an offensive and deplorable book" that dehumanised Africans. Achebe argued that Conrad, "blinkered...with xenophobia", wrongly portrayed Africa as the opposite of Western civilisation, ignoring the artistic accomplishments of the Fang tribe who lived in the Congo River basin at the time of the book’s publication. Was Achebe being oversensitive, failing to appreciate Conrad’s own sense of horror at the brutality of westerners in Africa when he was employed on a Congo steamer, himself providing the model for Marlowe? I prefer to think there is irony in what may be misconstrued as racism on Conrad’s part.
Apart from the fact that I felt myself to have failed fully to understand the book on a first reading, the ending seems rather limp and disappointing. In short, the novella is remarkable for the quality of some of the writing, and for the debate it triggers, but may have been overrated.