Friday, January 08, 2010

JD's Take: Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

There's really nothing I can say about this book that hasn't been said a thousand times before, that's the problem with trying to review classics. Nevertheless, it was the first book I read in 2010 so I wanted to make sure I started the year off right by actually writing something down!

Heart of Darkness is sumptuously written with prose that flows like honey, and the actual narrative just gets dragged along by the sheer inevitable viscosity of the text. It's great fun to read because Conrad has such fun with the language, even if (if I may be allowed a quibble) the speaker (a gnarled old sailor) and the writing style don't really match. Still, any book that manages to get this quote in there is fine by me:
"For months--for years--his life hadn't been worth a day's purchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearances indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity."
There's a lot of content crammed into that short work, and it makes you think. About solitude, and ethics, and society, and darkness. Reading this from the relative comfort of 2010, I already know how I feel about most of the overt issues tackled here (for instance, I'm pretty solidly against exploiting other cultures or treating human beings as less valuable than animals because they're colored different, and reading vivid accounts of that sort of behavior isn't necessary to jar my thinking), but there are plenty of more subtle issues here that honestly did make me spend some time contemplating the nature of man as a social creature and of power and temptation and self delusion.

To sum up: this is a quick, powerful, worthwhile read with glorious (if baffling) writing and plenty of actual meat on it's bones to chew over even now.

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