Like Death in Venice or The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness is not just a book but a modern myth—everyone has read it, even if they have not done so personally. The actual book is far stranger than accounts of it sometimes suggest. It’s a shame in a way that the book has become so famous as to dull our sense of this pervasive strangeness. Re-reading it now I find it scarcely less bizarre than when I plodded through it as a mystified seventeen-year-old (we were doing The Secret Agent for A-Level). What H. G. Wells wrote of Conrad’s earlier book, An Outcast of the Islands, also holds good for Heart of Darkness: “his story is not so much told as seen intermittently through a haze of sentences.” Strictly speaking, the book is narrated not by Marlow but by someone listening to him and reporting what has been said so that we peer at the narrative river through a forest overgrown with quotation marks. Much of the time Marlow seems simply to be waffling on—even more extraordinary given what a short book it is, how little room there is for waffling.
more from Geoff Dyer at Guernica here.