I review “Heart of Darkness”

This story is supposed to be one of the Most Important Stories ever written. I’m not going to go into why (Western Civilization vs. the Primitive Jungly Darkness racism blah blah blah). I’d never bothered to read it, having gone to school during the education system’s brief hiatus from Dead White Malelandia. Anyway, I finally read it some time last year. Here is my review. (Full disclosure: this is elaborated from a comment I left on another website.)

I decided to finally read “Heart of Darkness” and found it on Gutenberg or some other free e-text website. I’m doing this catch-up thing with the so-called Western Canon; not because I think that all the works therein are the greatest things ever written, but because they’re part of my civilization’s history and if I’m going to fight certain aspects of Western culture I need to know where these ideas are coming from. So, to the story. I was… unimpressed. The plot is simple: a European guy goes to a country in Africa to look for another European guy. He takes a boat down a river through a jungle, finds the guy, the guy dies, the narrator returns. And that’s it. There’s not a lot of action. And I’m not sure why I should care about the characters: neurotic, coddled white guy leaves “civilization” for the scary jungle, realizes during the journey that he’s out of reach of warm beds, hot baths, and people who care about his feefees to the exclusion of all else, and doesn’t like it one bit. All the other white guys are typical of white guys in a white male supremacist society: they’ve always been on the top so have never had anything really difficult asked of them, and when they find themselves far away from the creature comforts they think they are entitled to they react like big babies and “go native” — that is, become supreme assholes that no actual “native” culture would tolerate from its own. Maybe in the 19th century this was a new, novel, horrifying concept, but now it’s old hat at the very least and I’ve never been interested in male characters who lose control. I think people who stay in control of themselves and are civilized and gracious no matter what their circumstances are so much more interesting.

The theme of the story is supposed to be about how civilization is a safe haven from the darkness that lurks within the human soul, and that it’s all too easy to leave civilization and go into the darkness, civilization is so fragile, etc. About that: actually, in the story the protagonist was on a boat (a steamboat I think or at least it wasn’t a native canoe or raft) built by his civilization, which could at any moment turn around and take him safely back home, and in fact (spoiler!) it did. His quarry, Kurtz, died from being old and sick (as far as I can tell, the text doesn’t elaborate), which totally could happen in the middle of Victorian London as well as the “uncivilized” jungle. And actually, the guy had built a house, so it wasn’t like he was living on the ground covered in mud and worms. I’m afraid that “no civilization” is represented mostly by the scary dark jungle (well, it’s a fucking bunch of trees at night, of course it’s going to be dark), and worst of all, by the scary “primitive” native tribespeople, especially the female chieftain or whoever she was supposed to be. (Which character, however, struck me as a perfectly normal woman grieving normally and in a rather dignified if non-European fashion for someone she apparently had come to esteem. If Conrad meant to write her as some savage dark earth goddess capable of eating men’s hearts raw or whatever, he failed with this one. This character — unnamed — came off as more civilized than the pathetic white guys.)

Anyway, I was rather bored with the story. At least Apocalypse Now, the film inspired by the story, had explosions and a tiger.

100 Not Really Best First Lines From Novels

Oh, me and internet lists, here we go again. Anyway, something called “American Book Review” has decided these are 100 of the best first lines of novels. Let’s just say I don’t… entirely agree with all of them. Also, a warning: I haven’t read a lot of these novels. So I will be coming at most of these as someone who is picking up these books for the first time and deciding on whether or not I’ll read on. Let’s go:

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Reading and possible future reviews

For some reason WordPress.com kicked me out. It does that periodically, I don’t know why. Or did I accidentally click the log out thing? It’s easy with this laptop touchpad to hit things by accident.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to catch up on my Kindle reading. I found and downloaded a few free e-books and some not so free and will try to get them read and reviewed. Right now I’m working on a light-hearted mystery with slight paranormal overtones, fortunately written for people with a higher reading comprehension level than the usual one assumed for YA readers. So far it’s engaging and fun but there are a few elements that worry me. One: the heroine mentions how she hates rodents. (She’s in a dark basement of a burnt-out building and thinks she hears a rat or something.) I realize that a lot of people, male and female, really do have a rodent-phobia, but it’s become such a hoary old cliché that I can’t believe it still gets used, especially when the character it’s used for is female. I don’t know, it just bugged me. Just once I want to read about a female heroine who has a pet rat, or relaxes when the mysterious noise in the dark cellar is “only a mouse.” There are some other things that annoy me about the story, like the rival boyfriends (current and ex-) who keep trying to “protect” her. Current BF even puts her in a jail cell in one scene (he is a policeman) which elicited from me instant RAEG. So right now I’m hoping the happy end of this thing includes her dumping the guy, or his groveling apology. However, this is an American book so I doubt I’ll get that.

Two non-American works I finished recently were two Jules Verne classics: Mysterious Island and Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. I’ll say more about those soon but I thought I’d just mention I am now in love with Captain Nemo. Seriously, he is my fictional dead husband. What’s not to love? Smarter than everyone, afraid of nothing, told the entire world to fuck right off and went to explore the briny deep and unknown places like Antarctica in the submarine he invented himself… Okay, so he went through a kind of weird space for a while with the whole sinking the ships of the British Empire for revenge for losing his kingdom in India, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy. He got better. Marry me, Captain Nemo! I don’t care that you’re not real. In fact, that makes it a perfect match.