Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review - Heart of Darkness

Heart of DarknessI'm somewhat torn. The English Major in me would really like to give this book a higher rating. The reader in me has a hard time doing so.

I read this book back in High School and could honestly not remember anything about the plot, the reading or the discussions aside from the fact that the story was about some guy on a boat going deep into Africa and that I distinctly remembered struggling to stay awake while reading it.

I thought that approaching it a second time as a seasoned English Major would result in a better perspective. Admittedly, I think I got more out of the plot this time and see much more depth and symbolism in the book...but I still found myself struggling to stay awake at times.

What's sad is that this is not necessarily a slow paced or boring book. It's filled with exploration, political intrigue, violent deaths, savage attacks and other moments of suspense and tension. And yet, it is also filled with lengthy monologues on the nature of man and the perspectives of our narrator Marlow (who is actually a secondary narrator if you want to get technical, since he's telling the story to an unnamed narrator who appears very little in the book at all...a very strange setup).

The craft or structure of this novel is intriguing and I suspect is a large reason why this is such a classic. As I mentioned briefly above, the narrative style is a little different. The "official" narrator of the book is an unnamed man sitting on a boat. However, the meat of the story is actually told by another man on the boat (Marlow) who is actually telling this story to our unnamed narrator. There are also segments where Marlow is re-telling something someone else said to him or something he read, thus leaving us three or four times removed from the actual events of the story. His spoken narrative is also sometimes a little disjointed and sometimes conversational as though he's lost his train of thought while telling the story or he's distracted or interrupted by something or someone on the ship with our actual narrator.

The book is full of symbolism and allusion. It can definitely be taken as a commentary on many different aspects of Africa, colonialism, Imperialism, savagery, humanity, principles, beliefs, truths, and many other high level themes. However, the book doesn't seem to come up with any concrete answers about any of these and even leaves us in the darkness as to exactly which commentary we should be paying attention to. Truly, many social commentaries leave off just short of prescribing a plan of action, but they generally make their arguments fairly clear. In the case of Heart of Darkness, I feel like I came away more muddled than when I began. Yes, I acknowledge that oppression of so-called savages is not to be condoned, but I knew that ahead of time...and honestly, I'm not entirely sure that oppression is the core meaning of the novel.

I appreciate that this novel has depth to it that I don't understand. It's definitely a difficult novel that's hard to truly access. It's high level plot and themes are intriguing, but I don't feel that they stand well enough on their own to warrant an outrageous following. In order to truly appreciate this book, I feel that it requires very in-depth study and discussion of weeks or months. Maybe I'm just looking for too much, and if that's the case, then my view of the book goes down even more. Maybe I'm just obtuse and missing the point, which means my review is unfortunately lower than it should be.

Whatever the reason, I don't love this novel and don't anticipate reading it again. If somebody else reads it and loves it and wants to discuss it with me and turn me around, I'd gladly open a discussion, but for now, I stick by my rating.

2.5 stars out of 5

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