Sunday, 15 April 2012
I picked this up due to the history behind the novel and curiosity as to what makes a canonical novella.
Firstly a note on the picture included to the left; I always try to get a picture of the copy of the book I own. I’ve only failed on one occasion and that was with Stephen King’s Carrie. I picked this one up as a collective of Penguin Popular Classics as I am a fan of recycling and the book is made from 100% recycled paper. However, I would advise not taking these books on holiday to hot countries as the spine melted in the intense Turkey heat and my book is now falling apart and I’m lucky to still have all 111 pages intact.
Anyway, enough with paper, let’s talk literature. From a modern perspective, Heart of Darkness wouldn’t have got through a first reading with a publisher and the bog standard rejection letter would have been sent, such is the poor quality of writing.
As for the frame story genre, I’ve never been a massive fan and Heart of Darkness isn’t going to sway me. I’m a simple person and I found it hard to follow and it didn’t hold my attention. I had to really concentrate to work out what was going on and I don’t find it an enjoyable experience when I have to work hard to understand a book.
The book is broken down into three sections and at first I thought they were really pointless. There are no definable breaks in the story and if anything they interrupt flow. However, I went away, did a little research and discovered that Heart of Darkness was originally published in three parts in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902. Even though it’s been reprinted, it’s been kept as close to its original format as possible, which is a nice nostalgic touch.
So is the book any good? Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, does not think so and says that the book is overly racist and that Conrad himself was racist. He launched this criticism in 1975 a full 51 years after Conrad’s death in 1924, and while his argument had credibility at the time, it is invalid as at the time of writing Heart of Darkness, racism was common and in line with the culture and thinking of the general population. The book and its connotations are acceptable within its own context.
That is reason why it is simply not possible to review Heart of Darkness from a modern literary standpoint; it doesn’t make sense to do so. It is easy to launch a scathing attack on a dead person; they can’t argue back. In fact, the counter argument was that Achebe was making a political statement. If that is the case, he shouldn’t use a 75 year old text to do so. Regardless of what Achebe says, Heart of Darkness is in the canon and his comments only serve to strengthen the fact that it is exactly where it belongs.
Heart of Darkness was published by Penguin Popular Classics in 1994. RRP £2.00 (Paperback) Originally published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1902.
Rarely do I buy books because they are listed as the number one book in the Tesco book chart thing, but as I know who Mark Watson is, and I had no idea he also wrote novels as well as starring in the occasional Magners advert and telling jokes, I thought I’d take a chance.
Eleven is a book based on the idea of six degrees of separation. In the case, as the title might suggest, it is eleven degrees of separation instead. Very clever Mark.
There aren’t many negative points to make about the book. The characters are really well constructed and fit in well with their surroundings. There always seems to be a reason for every scene and the individual set pieces link together well.
There were a few stand out moments and the first is Mark Watson’s lack of fear when dealing with extreme subjects. The main character, Xavier makes the mistake of dropping his best friend’s baby, ironically one which the couple struggled to conceive. It’s a moment of complete seriousness doused in humour that literally causes the jaw to remain firmly open for about ten pages.
I also get the feeling that Mark is one of these people (let’s call them perfectionists) that picked up on every single misspelling or out of place punctuation because the entirety of Eleven’s 388 pages are extremely polished. It makes a book much more enjoyable to be able to read it from A to B without being removed from the story by some adolescent sentence structure. While some of my other reviews highlight some of the smallest mistakes, and may seem petty, it’s for good reason. If Mark can write a story of over 350 pages without making a mistake, why can’t every other published author?
Going back to Watson’s ability to develop characters, he has written a character I find most intriguing; Xavier’s love interest Pippa. She is a strange mixture of driven, passionate and crazy and while being a bit of fruit loop you can understand exactly why Xavier falls for her. And you also want to bash him over the head for being such an idiot towards her at times.
Eleven’s characters are what you make of them. Whereas some authors go mental explaining everything about their characters in order that you completely understand where they are coming from and the process and hardwork they put into developing such complex and intriguing psyches, Mark Watson simply states, ‘she is a cleaner,’ and lets the dialogue and context do the rest.
It is also the first ending of a contained story that has been satisfying, which is annoying because if it had been shit I could have doubled the length of the review ranting about how no good can ever come from reading an entire book.
I would recommend Eleven. That’s all there is to say really.
Eleven by Mark Watson was published by Simon and Schuster UK Limited. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)