I’m not sure whether it’s my deep immersion in the flash fiction/short story world by both writing and reading this genre, but I’ve had a very hard time for over a year to stick with and breeze through any novels. It’s true, I don’t really breeze through anything I read, since I read for pleasure as well as learning and seek meaning and appreciation of writing styles from anything I read. Just can’t seem to follow more than a couple pages at a time with longer stories or novel-length fiction, and I hope I haven’t ruined my abilities to enjoy the pleasure of novels by seeking immediate gratification and basing my reading on the different style.
That said, I still found it a bit tiresome to read something that appears to go on for pages what I feel could have been said in a sentence. Joseph Conrad’s style of writing is excellent, and yet it’s gotten tedious to me.
There’s the unusual setup of the group of men sitting around a ship at night while one of them begins to tell his story of his recent journey to captain a ship down in Africa. The opening scenario is quite nice, with the men being described as “The Lawyer, the Accountant, the Director,” which in a single word, compartmentalizes these gentlemen versus the character called Marlow–who will be the narrator of the story to be told to these others. The book also starts out in first person, the narrator being among the listeners, and Marlowe’s story, also first person, is then crafted through the use of quotation marks and goes on for chapters before being occasionally brought back to the present scenario of the men listening to the story.
Talk about Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn brouhaha with the word “nigger,” this book as well liberally uses it, since the setting is in the late nineteenth century and slavery has just been overcome, yet in Africa, the cruelty and abuse continued far from the reach of civilization. The word itself, as spoken by Marlow, is not really an expression of racism but rather a commonly accepted designation of black men. Marlow himself seems to be shocked by the ill treatment of the Africans who are being used as carriers into the interior of Africa by the wealthy traders. Marlow seems to have a need to get this story out, yet he finds himself telling his companions in the darkness of night cover. In truth, the narrator appears to perhaps be the only one listening as the others may have fallen asleep.
There are some interesting characters that Conrad brings into the adventure, and he draws them so well. In fact, the character of a white trader named Kurtz is someone that dribbles into the flow of the story long before Marlow has bet him.
I believe that the value of this book, aside from Conrad’s fine writing, may well be in the secrets that seeped out into the reading world from the base of Africa, where a different system of social intercourse and equality still reigned.