Heart of Darkness

Dear Reader, I hated it.

Heart of Darkness is a semi-fictional tale (it’s closely based on Joseph Conrad’s own experiences) about a boat captain who has to sail up a river deep into the heart of Africa in the late 1800’s to retrieve a fellow boat captain who has “gone native”. It’s told almost entirely via the main character’s extended monologue; is critical of the period role of colonialism; and is surprisingly short.

It’s also surprisingly miserable.

I mean, I didn’t particularly expect a book dealing with colonialism and race in the Victorian era to be a fun read, per se, but I didn’t expect it to be so utterly dreadful, either. I genuinely considered quitting this book multiple times, which is not something I often do, but I was dreading spending time reading it – reading it was actively depressing, and I had to really stop and consider whether I wanted to put any more of it in my brain.

I understand what people who like it see in it: it’s well-written and incredibly immersive, for one. The construction of it as an extended monologue makes it feel very immediate to the reader and the writing style is heavily atmospheric. It’s an excellent example of the writing format and structure matching and enhancing the story being told.

And yet. So much of the story is about the abuse, destitution, torture, and murder of a group of people. It is graphic, it is racist even as it critiques imperialism, and it is violent in spades. I feel about it similarly to how I feel about the movie Requiem for a Dream: I respect it as a work of art; I don’t regret having experienced it once; and I never want to experience it again.

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