As I’ve stated in prior articles, when I began my writing journey, my husband said, “Great writers read great writers.” I tried to take in some non-Moby Dick Herman Melville, but got bogged down on page five. It took a lot of time for me to slowly absorb the great writers that I’m continuing to enjoy. My hard science education left a gaping hole when it came to literature.
When “Apocalypse Now Redux” came on cable a year or two ago, I finally decided to sit down and watch it, beginning to end. When it was first released I had no desire to see it and in retrospect I was too young to see such a movie. But no doubt, seeing it recently, it was a four-out-of-four star film. It is dark, compelling, and disturbing; the message it carried rang through loud and clear; to me, that’s good storytelling. (Not addressing the bull scene issue.)
So I go to bed and tell my husband that I finally joined the rest of the planet by watching the famous, controversial, critically acclaimed film. Then he told me: The film wasn’t about the Vietnam War. It’s based on a story called “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. What? “Heart of Darkness?” Why am I the last to know these things? There goes my lovely science/math education again. I had never heard of one of the most famous novellas ever written.
The next step was to cure myself of literary ignorance, so I downloaded it on my kindle for free. Like other classics, it’s beyond a simple review, being one of the most complex stories I’ve ever read. Nothing about this novella is light reading, and I didn’t buzz through it like I usually do with other books. Referencing my prior article on book eating: I didn’t eat this book. It ate me. The writing itself is complex and laborious.
For those that haven’t read “Heart of Darkness,” don’t be concerned that I’m writing spoilers, because this isn’t the kind of story that has spoilers. The setting is in the Congo Free State in the late 1800’s, ruled by King Leopold II of Belgium. The narrator is on a riverboat steaming deep into the jungle to find Kurtz, one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read. Some say “the darkness” is a combination of 1) entering the physical darkness of such a wilderness 2) seeing and experiencing the human atrocities committed at the time 3) facing the inner darkness that we carry within ourselves.
After reading it, I turned off the kindle, and sat silent for about ten minutes. My husband asked me what I thought. I didn’t have an immediate answer. I was horrified, disturbed, but fascinated at the same time. It takes a whopper of a story to leave me speechless, but this one did.
So what does “Heart of Darkness” have to do with the new author? It’s a classic, and it’s a story so dark it drops the reader all the way down. It functions as a reminder of the horrifying atrocities during the time. From an author’s standpoint, I’d call it a gold standard for dark novels. For a novella, the questions it leaves unanswered is every bit as disturbing as the details in the story.
So again, go forth, new authors, and if you have a little time, consider taking in this famous novella if you’ve never read it. It won’t excite you, and it sure won’t make you laugh. Whether you like it or not, it will make you think.
And when you hear someone say “The horror, the horror!” Now you know where it came from.