#3. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

“Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight, and through that dim stir, through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home to one’s very heart — its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life.”

– Part I, Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness was one of the most difficult books I’ve read. It’s not long – it’s probably one of the shortest books I’ve read in a while too. It’s difficult because of the long paragraphs and the sometimes-confusing shift in narrators for very brief interims. And as I said in the last post, I hated it – at first. It was quite tiresome to wade through Marlow’s long-wound narrative only to find that my mind had wandered off midway and I had to reread it in order to understand what he meant.

However the last twenty pages  or so were worth all that and my perception of the book underwent a sea-change because of the extraordinary brilliance of those last few pages. Also, Marlow and Kurtz are such complexly crafted characters – it’s impossible to be anything but awestruck by Conrad’s genius. Much of it is inspired by Conrad’s own journey through the Congo and according to some, Kurtz was a character he created out of several people he met in that journey. And to be honest, I believe that it would have been impossible for anyone to come up with a plot like that without drawing from real life. I know I’m being vague when I say that – and I don’t know how to really explain that except by saying that Heart of Darkness is the sort of book that seems to be both too real to be fiction and too fictional to be real. If you still don’t get what I mean, all I can say is that you should try and read the book and you’ll probably get what I mean.

So, the verdict on Heart of Darkness is that I wish I hadn’t said that I hated it. I don’t. When I found the time to really focus and the determination to read it and I was unperturbed by report submissions and things of that sort, it turned out to be a great read. And though it really isn’t my “type” of book, I did enjoy it and as I said before, those last twenty pages were really something. I also understand why it has made its way into so many greatest books lists and why it is considered as an archetypal test – I don’t quite know how to explain this either but reading Heart of Darkness, one gets the feeling that this is what several writers after Conrad have aspired to emulate and that very visible influence is rather awe-inspiring – so much so that one feels certain that literature today would be decidedly different if Conrad had succeeded in killing himself when he attempted suicide at the age of twenty one. And one feels rather grateful to the Fates for letting him live on to write something so frighteningly dark and eerily insightful.

P.S – Anything about Heart of Darkness is of course, incomplete without mention of Apocalypse Now. I watched it as part of a Film Studies course – actually, watching it was supposed to be homework of a sort and I had to watch it at 5 AM in the morning because I didn’t remember that I was supposed to watch it till the day that we were scheduled to discuss it in class. Watching Apocalypse Now at 5 AM in the morning is quite a horrible idea. Sure, it’s a great movie – but it is definitely not a great start to one’s day. Anyway, I don’t have to say this because this is superobvious and Brando has an Academy Award that screams this and all – but Brando was just mindblowingly brilliant as Kurtz. So much so that whenever there was mention of Kurtz in the book, my mind just saw him as Brando.