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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").
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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.
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on 1 November 2013
The story opens on board a yacht moored in the Thames but due to set sail for parts unknown; the men aboard are drinking and swapping yarns as they wait listlessly for the tide to turn. The setting sun provides a brooding backdrop and leads one of the men, Marlow, to declare “this also has been one of the dark places of the earth” and launch into a tale.

He’s speculating how the first Roman invaders must have felt sailing up the river into the unfamiliar British terrain in an inhospitable climate populated by savage natives; an interesting parallel to his own experience captaining a river steamboat up the Congo to ‘relieve’ the resident of a remote ivory trading post.

The man at the centre of the mission is the charismatic Mr Kurtz whose trading prowess is second to none due in part to a skill in oratory that gives him a Messianic quality that spellbinds colleagues and natives alike. In fact the natives are so devoted they don’t want him to leave.

Marlow’s engagement, induction and voyage up river is recounted; with hard-nosed detachment as far the physical dangers are concerned, but with more circumspection as regards the psychological pressures that emanate from the jungle beyond the riverbank – the continent’s heart of darkness. He can begin to understand how a white man may succumb to “the fascination of the abomination” that can be found there and be prey to “the growing regret, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate”.

The immensely powerful language (quoted to do it justice) gives the novella the feel of a horror story; as it is – but there’s nothing supernatural here, it is all horribly, if unfamiliarly natural in the time and place that was Equatorial Africa in the time of colonisation. And Conrad should know, he did the steamboat job himself and, as a result, this anguished take on colonisation provides an interesting contrast to Rider Haggard’s bravado. (See previous review of King Soloman’s Mines).

[See my weekly reviews each Friday on abibliodyssey.blogspot.com]
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 6 November 2012
What a book this is! And a free Kindly download into the bargain. I am 58 and have never read it, now realising that most people read it for O Level! Anyway after confusing me to begin with, I started to look into it a bit more only to find that Conrad was there and witnessed some of this awful stuff. I then moved on to King Leopold's Ghost (another Kindle book by the way) and was amazed and horrified at what evil greed produced in the two decades between 1890 and 1910 or thereabouts. Really a novel for all seasons seeing it touches on the darkness of the human heart - and, I presume, an implied message of the need for redemption? Well done for putting it on Kindle - which, by the way, I love, despite being an old technophobe.
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I'm not sure how to rate this book. I gave it 4* because I think the author's intention was to manifest the horrifying reality of colonization and he managed to do that in a Gothic non-sensationalist method.

The book deals with colonisation and its cruelty. And that's how it ought to be read. One ought not to expect a happy ending or a story of redemption and freedom. Or any romantic feelings of adventure and escape. Or characters one would be able to identify with. This isn't a book you will "like" or "love" - it's a book that will haunt you. It's a book that will shock you - a book that demonstrates how "respectable" persons can rationalise human brutality.

In the West many people were convinced that that colonization was almost a philanthropic endeavour that brought redemption and civilization to the savage natives. One could say that we are still hold this belief as we invade countries around the world such as Iraq (only this time we use "Democracy" and mythic WMD as our motto as we torture people, bomb cities and steal oil).

The book is narrated by Charles Marlow, a sailor/ skipper who Captains a boat for an ivory trading company along the Congo River. The scenery, the uncertainty and darkness of the Congo jungles creates an eerie atmosphere which becomes embedded to the story. Usually the thought of jungles in tropical locations would induce me to thoughts of beautiful nature and exotic holidays. However, in this instance it came across as sinister.

The author uses prose, which although I wouldn't describe as subtle, it's far from descriptive, in order to convey the cruelty and inhumane methods used by the Colonist against the natives. There's a distinct lack of sentiment expressed which gave substance rather than retracted from what the author attempted to convey. No emotional breakdowns as such (although there were shared moments of repulsion felt by the Narrator) but no extreme language. Certain references relating to inhumane behavior were described in an almost scientific, observational (even philosophical) way - not quite casual references - but not the detailed descriptions and expressive emotional thoughts one would expect. An example is below:

"You remember I told you I had been struck at the distance by certain attempts at ornamentation, rather remarkable in the ruinous aspect of the place. Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to throw my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing-food for thought and for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky, but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on stakes, if their faces had not been turned to face the house. Only one, the face I had made out was facing my way"

The above relates to the Narrator finding a row of posts with decapitated heads of natives.

The author's descriptions of the Africans and how the people of Congo were during the 19th century are quite fascinating. Not detailed or in any way a historical account, but highly interesting. Some were described as cannibals, some were chained and worked hard, some were dying and in pain but all were primitive. However, despite that the Narrator could feel a certain kinship to this "early man":

"They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity- like yours- the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar."

The character of Klutz was rather a mystery. Evil but a genius, poetic, artistic, accomplished but apparently without much human feeling. A man who could command but despised those all around him. But what was most horrifying is the depth of depravity and evilness he stooped to in order to become "something" to be accepted in Europe by his Intended's family.

"The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. That was a reflection that made you creepy all over."

Overall, not a book to gain much pleasure. Not a plot to win hearts or experience a great adventure. But certainly a terrible tale which illustrated the lurking darkness that could be found within man.
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VINE VOICEon 25 July 2006
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.
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on 24 April 2012
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.
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