Monday, July 07, 2008

The Horror

I recently picked up Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I'm not entirely sure why I decided to read it, other than it's one of many notable works of literature that I've never read. I went to the library looking for a work of fiction, but beyond that, I didn't really have anything in mind. I enjoyed the book, but I had a few problems with it. The first was that I picked up the Norton Critical Edition, which clocks in at 420 pages. The story itself is only 70 of those pages. I failed to consult the table of contents before diving into it, so I thought that it was a novel-length story. I tend to read longer stories differently than shorter ones. I don't pay attention as closely at the start of a longer story since I figure that the first 20 or 30 pages are just going to start developing the themes and characters that will be fully fleshed out throughout the course of the book. Once I was 20 or 30 pages into Heart of Darkness, I was almost halfway through the story. I didn't realize how short the story was until I was about 2/3rds of the way through it, at which point, I had no desire to go back to the beginning and read it more closely.

My bigger problem was the extent to which the story has been woven into western culture over the past 100 years. It's hard to approach a work of literature from a fresh perspective after you've already seen it parodied on Seinfeld. While I didn't read much of the source material, criticism, and historical information presented in the other 350 pages of the Norton Critical Edition, that which I did read was in some ways more interesting to me than the story. I'd still say that the story is required reading for any student of the scramble for Africa.

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