A local book club’s pick of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder led me to rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The similarities are hard to miss: the menacing jungle (Africa for Conrad, Brazil for Patchett); the main character who manipulates the ignorant natives ( Kurtz vs Dr. Swenson); the ruthless, greedy corporation willing to destroy a way of life in the name of progress (ivory merchants in Africa; pharmaceutical companies in Brazil).
Both authors use brutal realism, with Patchett offering some respite in romance, while Conrad mires in the worst of humanity. Both use their talents for phrasing to capture the reader.
“Marina brushed her hand across the back of her neck and dislodged something with a hard shell. She had learned in time to brush instead of slap as slapping only served to pump the entire contents of the insect which was doubtlessly already burrowed into the skin with some entomological protuberance, straight into the bloodstream.” Patchett, State of Wonder
“I tried to break the spell–the heavy, mute spell of the wilderness–that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations.”
Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Conrad wrote his cautionary tale over 100 years ago (1903). Not much has changed it seems, just the players and the place, continuing the universal themes of greed and ethics.
If you haven’t yet read State of Wonder, the review here might tempt you. The classic Heart of Darkness is available free online.
I agree that the descriptions in the Amazon were vivid, but I found the story and the characters unconvincing, it just didn’t work for me, felt too contrived, though I was impressed by the wrestling with the ananconda, that was a heart-stopping bit of dramatic tension.
You don’t dissuade me; I still have it among the books I most enjoyed (although not as much as her Bel Canto).
Great, I hate to dissuade anyone, I’m all for each reader discovering a book themselves, it disappoints me if a review puts people off which is why I shared the excellent accoldaes of others up front, a warning not to listen too much me and find out for ourselves.
Always a good plan 🙂
I wasn’t a fan of Heart of Darkness so I’m not sure how fast I want to get to the State of Wonder sitting on my shelves!
The book club discussion was lively, and I liked the book – hope you give it a try.