‘We live as we dream. Alone…’
It took me three attempts to read Heart of Darkness. First time round I was basically expecting a novelised version of Apocalypse Now. In my ignorance I thought the latter was a straight up interpretation of the former, not realising that master director had transposed the setting from the the jungles of Africa to the rivers of South Vietnam. My second crack at Heart of Darkness ended because I was in the middle of reading Philip Pullman’s exquisite His Dark Materials trilogy and I was too distracted by that to deal with a Victorian novella. Third time’s the charm as they say and this time Heart of Darkness finally stuck.
Charles Marlow takes a crew of savages in search of the elusive and enigmatic Mr Kurtz. This journey will take him to the very heart of darkness (hence the title…), it was also take Marlow into the very heart of racist slurs, something that is shocking by today’s standards and to be honest, must have been pretty out of order even back in 1902 when the book was published. Apparently, there is a wider point within Heart of Darkness that the ‘savages’ and their more ‘civilised’ overseers are more similar than either would care to admit. This is fairly deep in the subtext however and wrapped in some hideously abusive rhetoric. It’s all very complicated.
Having said that the prose is starkly beautiful in places and Marlow makes for a fascinating narrator. The real star of the show however is Mr Kurtz. Despite not even appearing until the third act, Kurtz is a constant presence in the novel, lurking just unseen behind every corner. At once a thorn in Marlow’s side and an itch that he is desperate to scratch. Very much like my current obsession with white chocolate Coco Pops, a supposedly real breakfast cereal that has become my own white (chocolate) whale, such is their scarcity. Do they definitely exist? Or is it a whisper in the classroom? And do they make the milk taste like white chocolate? Are they more expensive than normal ones? Wait, is this what sent Kurtz mad? The horror… the horror…
Anyway. Heart of Darkness. It was a struggle in places, I mostly enjoyed it. It’s not as good as the film. Review done. I should have just led with that really.