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Review: Heart of Darkness

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You don't review this kind of book; it reviews you.

One of the things I'm apparently trying to do as I approach the mid-point of
my life is catch up on all the classics my education unfathomably omitted. I
purchased this copy of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness five or six
years ago; having only now completed it, I better understand its reputation as
a classic. (Besides the challenging style and lack of "action", it is clear
that one other factor excluded it from my education: the routine use of the term

Heart of Darkness is a slow and unsettling story. Although it runs to
just short of 100 pages in my paperback edition, Marlow's tale is really a
single long arc, building slowly. I'll spare you the Cliff's notes synopsis,
which you can find yourself. As Marlow moves upriver, he moves away from what
he knows as the daylit world of sanity into a realm of the unreal. Conrad is
not attempting to make a statement, or outline a proposition; Heart of
is about the indescribable, perhaps unspeakable strangeness
underneath, or behind, or within, the life Marlow knew, that we know.

As I said, an impressionistic book, and one which succeeds wholly. I was
moved and disturbed. I recommend it be read in as close to a single sitting
as possible -- over a long weekend, if necessary. Forget symbolism cheat
sheets, forget Cliff's notes, forget "critical introductions", forget the
historical Congo or any of that. Just sit down, think "the year is 1902", and
begin. Take your time and listen to the tale. Resist the temptation to rush.
Conrad's classic was certainly worth every ounce of work lavished on it.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. 1902.
(Signet Classic edition, 1950/1997.)

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