Visions from Apocalypse Now swirled steadily in my head whilst I read Heart of Darkness and when the much sought after Kurtz exclaimed, “The horror! The horror!”, I had my suspicions put to rest. I must plead ignorance here as I was unaware that Coppola did indeed base his film on Conrad’s novella.
Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed in what is hailed by many as a work of art. Ironically, upon embarking upon Conrad’s Nostromo, I feared a book like this; a seafarer’s adventure, yet what worked brilliantly for Nostromo just fell flat for me with Heart of Darkness.
Marlow, the book’s narrator, obviously enjoys spinning a yarn and as the boat’s captain, has a ready made audience. He shares his adventures up the Congo including tales of cannibals, shrunken heads, brutal elephant hunters and the mysterious Mr. Kurtz. Sadly, his chronicles did not intrigue me.
His reputation preceding him could lead only to a letdown when Kurtz is finally encountered. He is said to be a brilliant man, yet the skulls atop sticks outside his hut indicate otherwise. He is found to be near death and utters word contrary to what others believed of him.
Other characters were nameless and referred to as the Director, the Lawyer, the Accountant, etc. Beyond that designation, not much more is divulged.
Droll thing life is–that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself–that comes too late–a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.
Perhaps I’d opt for a landlubber’s discussion instead of heading out to sea with Mr. Conrad. I fear his love of the sailor’s life might influence our conversation. What I’d really love to ask, but would be apprehensive over, would be his feelings about his parents’ political views resulting in the family’s separation.
My rating for Heart of Darkness is a 6 out of 10.
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