Once again I change my mind about a book I didn't like very much the first time I read it more than thirty-five years ago. Even then I appreciated that it was a signficant literary work, but I didn't respond to it emotionally. If anything, it struck me as a dull.
This time around, my reaction was quite different. I didn't find it dull at all. Rather, I found the experience very powerful, both intellectually and emotionally. Part of that may be due to the fact that over the years I've experienced - if only second hand - a lot more of the ugly things human beings do to each other.
However, my more positive reaction to the work on this occasion may also be because I listened to the audiobook edition narrated by Kenneth Branagh. While I think Branagh is probably a better stage actor than he is a film actor, as the narrator of this novella, he is simply brilliant. Every voice, even tone is perfect. Branagh's voice drew me right into the narrative and made me really pay attention to Conrad's amazing use of language.
Conrad's prose and the themes he explores are part of what makes the work an enduring classic. There are lots of levels on which it can be read, but what struck me most is the trenchant criticism of colonialism and the utterly corrupting effect of power. Conrad has been accused of racism because of the way he described Africans in this work. While I can see how such an accusation could be made, I don't agree with it. Conrad may well have been a man of his time, but claiming that he was a racist is not particularly consistent with the overt critique of European colonial practices in Africa which permeates the work.
The fact that Conrad wrote in English - his third language after Polish and French and a language in which he did not achieve fluency until he was in his twenties - makes this novel even more extraordinary. I'm in awe of Conrad and I'm glad that I decided to tackle his writing again. Four stars for the work itself and another one for Branagh's superb narration.