One of the so-called greats of the western canon and one of the Modern Library’s Top 100, The Heart of Darkness, for whatever its merits, was such a slog for me. Its 96 pages might as well have been 996. This is the kind of book that sours students on literature for a lifetime. I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason why I found this book so difficult to get through. Whether it was sentence structure, or word choice, or transitions from scene to scene, I often found myself confused and needing to re-read whole paragraphs. It was as if Conrad wanted to convey the disorientation one feels in the heat of the jungle. If that was his intent, then well done.
There were moments when I was actually engaged in the story but they were brief moments. I worry that my aversion to this book is an indication of what I might feel when I attempt Lord Jim
, or The Secret
Agent. All of these are on the Modern Library Top 100 list, and I am attempting to read that whole list
. I have made pretty good headway, I am at 62 at this point, but I have already decided I am not reading the multiple Joyce and Faulkner titles on the list. Am I going to have to add Conrad to that “no chance in hell am I going to read them again” file? (Not to mention that Philip Roth might not be too far behind in joining that company.) I get it, they are all authors with important things to say and they do so in brilliant ways, but I guess my mind isn’t up to the task. The good news is I am not going to lose sleep over my inability to understand these important authors.
I have Chinua Achebe’s An Image of Africa (from the beautiful Penguin Great Ideas series) which is a critique of Heart of Darkness. While I think Conrad successfully challenged the imperial orthodoxy of his day, I am interested to see what an African thinks of the book.