For a while, I was going to the YWCA with my girlfriend Laurel every day. I would ride an exercise bike while reading a novel. I picked Heart of Darkness for my next bicycle novel, and then stuff happened, and I stopped exercising. So it lurked in my car, taunting me: "You stopped exercising."
I finally picked up the thing after I'd had a big argument with said girlfriend, and was killing some time. I was not really in a good frame of mind to start this book, but I don't think that colored my opinion too much. The copy I had was 300 pages long, about 200 of which were historical materials, reviews, critical analysis, etc. Talk about a tale that is Literature Incarnate!
I didn't think it was a bad novel per se, but then again, I could hardly call it a page-turner. Our narrator (not Marlowe, the guy to whom Marlowe was speaking) had no personality at all, and served as a needless buffer between the reader and Marlowe. This book has what I call "Moby Dick Syndrome." When I tell people about the plot, it sounds more interesting than it was. The reason is that when I think about the book, I am remembering the parts where stuff actually happened, as opposed to most of the first half. I would put this book down and not pick it up again for days. Usually, when I read a book, I either go straight through, or read it obsessively whenever I can until I'm finished. I like to read. Not so with Heart of Darkness.
Yes, there were political sentiments that were groundbreaking at the time. But for a modern reader like me, I was thinking, "Fine. Yes. It is bad to treat Africans like they are animals. Very bad. But I knew that. So shut up and have something happen." To be fair, one of the events in that vein did touch me: Marlowe was going on about something, and then he mentioned that the natives on the steamboat didn't have anything to eat, nor had they for a long time. That the whites didn't even consider that they would need food. They ate meat out of tins, but when the natives were able to obtain some rotting hippo-meat, the whites threw it overboard because they didn't like the way it smelled. I had taken for granted that the natives were eating something the whole time.
Some of the writing just confused me. At one point, I thought that Marlowe had found Kurtz dead body in a shack, and that was that, but then a few paragraphs later they landed in Kurtz' stronghold and it was clear they hadn't seen him yet. I don't mind messing around in time and space, but I don't like it when everything just gets muddy.
After I finished, Laurel suggested we rent "Apocolypse Now." It was an interesting adaptation (they moved the location to Vietnam, and changed the "company" to the "army.") I have to say that in this case I liked the movie more than the book.
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