Book Report: Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad (1969)

I must have bought this paperback more than a decade ago, probably during college or immediately thereafter. It’s been hanging around, and I’ve even tried to start it once or twice before, but I stalled out before passing through the narrative frame (introduction of Marlow relating the story while on a boat in the Thames). This time, though, it was the time to read it, and I made it through both the novelette (“Heart of Darkness”), the short story (“The Secret Sharer”), and the introduction/critical materials (and in that order).

“Heart of Darkness” is only 120 pages, but it’s dense Victorian English. As some of you know, the movie Apocalypse Now was based on this work, and the three or four nights I spent reading it seem shorter than watching the movie. The plot varies in that Marlow is going to meet Kurtz, and Martin Sheen is going to kill Marlon Brando. So one almost wants to comment on the differences in the plot and how, thematically, the producers of the two works were talking differently and speculate as to why. But I have a real job, almost, so I won’t waste too much time on it. I did get some of the thematic points of man versus himself at the same time as man versus nature and man versus primitive man. More than half the story spends its time getting up river, and the appearance, retrieval, and death of Kurtz happen very quickly, so if I find a hardback copy of Conrad’s work, I would welcome an excuse to read it again.

“The Secret Sharer” is shorter and more straight forward, although the first pages set the scene and don’t jump right into the action. However, I kind of got the point here, too.

Then I read the critical essays and the introduction to learn a little more about Conrad and such. Wow, I hearkened back to my university days with the critical essays, which were people saying in nonfiction what the author meant in his fiction. The essays confirmed some of my takes on the stories, but my goodness. Somewhere in the world, people make a living explaining largely underread literature to each other and to their students. I am glad I didn’t stick in the academy.

Books mentioned in this review: