I get cranky without new literature. Sometimes I can appease it by rereading one of my favourites like the Belgariad or Harry Potter. But from time to time even they can’t quite fix the itch of a book addict. I had finished my latest book and had nothing new and no time to go and find something. It came to Friday evening and I was heading to see my parents. Imagine my joy and surprise when I opened the back of my car to find books. These were the last of my Scotland list. Abandoned and forgotten in a Volkswagen boot for weeks. One of them caught my eye immediately. It was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. One of my main worries about reading classics is getting bogged down in a 600 page tome of claptrap that I end up despising. Therefore I think that Heart of Darkness being 100 pages was probably more of a draw than I’d like to admit. Also, I was interested to read the story that “Apocalypse now“ was based on.
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. There was a lot of promise to this at the start. A group of men set of on a sea voyage and on the way one of them starts to tell a story of a previous voyage he was on to find a mysterious Mr Kurtz. Over the course of the next hundred pages we hear about a trip down a river plagued with a leaky boat, hungry cannibals, diseased hippo meat and bizarre tobacco stealing Russians. When they arrive Kurtz is sick so they put him on the boat to take him home but he dies on the way uttering the immortal words “ The Horror, The Horror”.
This is basically it. You may be wondering why such a small plot would need 100 pages to tell it and I’m still wondering. The main reason is that the language used in the narration of this story is so over the top that each minor detail is documented in five separate metaphors and a plethora of adjectives. That’s not an exaggeration by the way. “There it is before you, smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage”. “The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish”. I found myself digging through language to find the story. This is matched with page long descriptions of people that will have no relevance to the story at all! Yes it’s very impressive that the book keeper has managed to keep his suits looking so very fresh and neat in the African jungle but if he isn’t going to be a relevant person in the story or will never be heard of again then I don’t believe I need to read line after line about his appearance.
Don’t get me wrong there is some beautiful language in this book and some of the metaphors are stunning. Quotes like “It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core” and “Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence–but more generally takes the form of apathy” are incredibly powerful. Unfortunately, like the plot, I had to make my way through a myriad of lesser similes and hyperbole to find them. I devour books and can easily average 100 pages a day or more if I’m hooked. This took me three days to finish and by the end of it my brain was exhausted and I felt genuine dislike towards Conrad and his characters.
If you like high prose and metaphors by the bucket load then I’d recommend it. This is a classic for a reason and there are many people out there who appreciate its style and respect the author. Unfortunately in this case I’m not one of them. The advice I can give is that, If your reading tastes lean more towards Rowling, Patterson and King then this may not be the book for you. Give it a try but you may end up like I did, echoing Kurtz’s final words “ The Horror, The Horror!”