14 November 2009

200 word review: 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad

Something strange happened to me when I read Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ – I didn’t feel gripped by the plot, I wasn’t particularly interested in how it ended, and yet I couldn’t stop myself reading it. Something about the novel cast a spell on me, and without me even noticing, I was enthralled.

It is a story about a seaman named Marlow, who travels to Africa on trade business and embarks on a journey to find the mysterious ivory trader Kurtz. Marlow himself tells his tale to fellow seamen on a boat on the Thames as evening turns to night. This gives the whole novel a sense of gloom, and the growing darkness of the night is paralleled by Marlow’s journey deeper into the jungle. The identity of Kurtz is gently hinted at throughout, and even when he appeared I still felt that I had missed something about him. The whole novel feels unresolved, but deliberately so. The words ‘heart’ and ‘darkness’ recur like a heartbeat, alluding to something never quite revealed.

I wish I could write more than 200 words on this occasion, because this novel is a masterclass in narrative – subtle, yet engrossing, with quietly wonderful use of language.

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