Saturday, 3 September 2011

Book Review - Heart of Darkness, by Joesph Conrad

Well, here comes yet another half-arsed book review, because I honestly didn't really enjoy it all that much. It wasn't a bad read but I just didn't really see the point of the story, and that is something that bothers me in a book. My next review - Murder at Mansfield Park - is bound to be a little more exciting.

I like the way the story was set up - it began with a bunch of sailors swapping stories on deck whilst they waited for the tide to rise in the River Thames so that they could go out to sea, and this one guy tells the story of the time he spent in Africa.

Basically, due to family connections (which I didn't quite understand the significance of, and so it was confusing to me when everyone within "the company" treated him with deference because of it, because it all seems a bit superficial. Perhaps if I'd studied the book, as I was supposed to, I would have understood the significance of that part of the plot, but as it is I have no idea), he got himself a job in Africa.

Basically, he had to skipper a paddle steamer up into the African Congo. I'm not entirely sure at what point his mission became resurrecting a scuppered paddle steamer from the bottom of the river and taking it upstream to rescue some high-up bloke in the company (who everyone secretly hated) who was quite ill, but that's what it became about. The ill man had been making headway for the Company, and poaching ivory and turning natives into slaves left, right and centre, as were all the whites in the story. SPOILER ALERT! The guy dies in the end before they can get him medical attention, and so the sailor brings the guy's sweetheart some paperwork and tells her big fat lies about his final days to make her happy.

My guess is that if I'd studied the book, there would have been an essay question assigned as the major assessment task that asked what "Heart of Darkness" meant. I suspect that had I been paying more attention to the detail, my answer would be something about the relationship between the literal darkness - i.e. the black people in the heart of the Congo being poorly used by the whites (note that this book was written early last century, so I don't have to use PC language) - and the darkness in the hearts of the while people (Belgians?) who were pillaging Africa and its people at that time. (note: I just Wiki'd it and I'm not far off the mark. Click here for a somewhat more enthused and grammatically correct synopsis of the plot)

It's quite a short read - I was put off reading it for quite some time as thought it was longer than it really was, because my volume was published along with a whole lot of background information on people who actually travelled in the Congo, and the journals of Conrad himself who did actually skipper a paddle boat in the Congo - so it's not a total waste of time to read, but I believe you need to pay more attention to it than I did. The fact that it is probably semi-autobiographical makes it far more interesting, and makes the fact it's more of a description of the relationships between the people there, and not particularly driven by plot per se, make more sense. It was written by an Australian ex-pat (who I believe was born in Russia, extradited to Germany and then died, leaving young Joseph to sail about the world... but I may well be mixing up my authors!), which I think shows in his writing style, which I quite liked. It's just that it was a very odd, slightly meandering and pointless story, and I like my stories to go somewhere.

That is all.

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