Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The horor, the horror": A Review of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, performed by Kenneth Branagh

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I'm a big fan of audio books. Other than having a loved one read to you, it's it's the next best thing. Of course, some books are better suited to this mode of enjoyment than others; indeed, some books certainly shouldn't be read aloud. (And most shouldn't be read at all!) However, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, performed in this instance by Kenneth Branagh, is perhaps best enjoyed in this reading performance. 

About Heart of Darkness I first read it for Dave Morrell's Modern Fiction class my senior year in college. He assigned it as the first book, indicating its status at the head of modern fiction. It was quite a read. Shortly after that time, the book acquired some popular fame because Francis Ford Coppola used it as the source text for his film about the Viet Nam war, Apocolypse Now. It's a tale of a man corrupted by what? His greed, his pride, his encounter with a alien land and culture? Well, perhaps all of these. It's a book that bears re-reading for many reasons. 

And as an audio book, Heart of Darkness is perfect for the medium because the book is a tale within a tale. A narrator begins the book as he starts a journey down the River Thames, and then his narrative becomes a recounting of the tale told by Marlow during this same journey. Marlow recounts his journey up a river in the Congo to eventually encounter the man (and the myth) of Kurtz. 

Branagh is an actor of the first order, and his performance of this tale does not disappoint. He delivers his performance with the characterization that brings the tale to life. I have to admit that I have a thing for reading voices that some have for singing voices; while some talk of Callas, Caruso, or Pavaroti as the great voices, I swoon at Geilgud, Olivier, Guinness, Evans (Dame Edith), Burton (ah, Burton!) and younger actors such as Branagh. (My prejudice for the Brits is evident here; not that American actors aren't quite good, but there unaccented voices (to me) can be rather flat out of specifically American contexts. Exceptions, of course, abound.)

In summary, a terrific performance of a terrific book.

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