Heart of Darkness.  Considered one of the greatest novels of all time.  In my view, considered one of my biggest failures of all time.  That’s right.  Despite only being a mere 100 pages, I walked away from Heart of Darkness with absolutely no clue as to what I’d just spend the past fortnight reading.  Joseph Conrad, you win this round.

As a general rule, I would say that I’ll give anything a shot and I’ll read most any book – if it’s in English, that it.  While there has definitely been books that I’ve struggled through, or had trouble with the writing, usually by the end of the novel I’ve not only grasped the storyline, the nuances and the writer’s style of writing, but I’ve actually come to enjoy it.  Brideshead Revisited and Madame Bovary are two examples that spring to mind.

Furthermore, if I set out to read a book, then usually I’ll finish it.  Granted, I only got halfway through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in my defence, I was 11.  Also, even at age 11 I understood that life was too short to waste on boring medieval books with lots of songs.  Bleurgh.

And up until Heart of Darkness, I could wholeheartedly say that there had only been two other books that I had read, and finished, without actually knowing what was happening in them.  The first was Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was 17 (where I managed to completely miss the whole rape scene), and the second was James Joyce’s The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which was so stream-of-consciousness-like that I zoned out for entire pages at a time.

Woefully, I now add Heart of Darkness to the list.

In the barest of details, Heart of Darkness is told from the narrative perspective of Charles Marlow, who tells of his adventures of an ivory explorer down the Congo River in Africa.  Along his journeys, thanks to countless whisperings, rumours and stories, Marlow becomes obsessed with the elusive Mr Kurtz.  Kurtz, a white European man with the high-standing role at the Inner Station, is both feared and hated – with most thinking he is not worthy of his position.

As Marlow journeys along the river, he and his crew are almost killed by a group of savages, who in turn, are protecting Mr Kurtz, who has become delirious with illness.

From what I could gather, when I wasn’t confused by what was going on, Heart of Darkness explores the ideas of racism, and what it means to be a ‘savage’.  Can someone who is white and middle class have the same savage nature as black men in the Congo jungle?  What causes a man to spiral into insanity?  What drives certain men to commit horrific crimes – and what does it say if they look and act like ‘one of us’?

Look, in terms of reviews, this one has probably been my worst.  If I could give you a more in-depth review I would.  Overall though, I don’t think I’d recommend this book.  While I have nothing against Conrad’s writing, and it is quite well documented that he is admired by a huge number of readers, sadly I just wasn’t able to get into Heart of Darkness.  Whether because of the age of the writing, or the excessive symbolism, I don’t know, but regardless of the time and place, I need to be involved in a story to enjoy it.

If you’re a big fan of classic literature and you’re not deterred by a tricky writer, then by all means I’d give Heart of Darkness a go.  But if you’re after an absorbing storyline, or even a dose of high brow literature, then there are many, many other books to choose.

Have you read Heart of Darkness or anything by Joseph Conrad?  Could you understand the storyline?  Let me know!

heart of darkness by joseph conrad

Heart of Darkness – (image taken from http://www.studentpulse.com)