I read this article from The Atlantic (I know; reading The Atlantic is an embarrassing proposition these days) where the writer talks about loving Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is such perfect construction of a novel. Brief, yet dense.
And the writer points out his favorite scene – and it’s mine, too, and I suspect it might be everybody’s favorite. It’s nothing to do with Kurtz (directly; symbolically, yes, of course it’s related). It’s that French gunboat shelling the impossibly dense and dark African continent. No enemies visible. Just these pathetic pops as their bristling guns fire. At war with something implacable, impervious, and unnoticing of their very existence.
Not mentioned in the article, Conrad’s storyteller says that he heard they were dying at the rate of two or three a day of fever onboard the gunship.
There were other scenes and moments (I love the tiny bit about the ‘papier-mache Mephistopheles’ in one of the corporate/colonial outposts).
But that French gunship. Just there. No rhyme nor reason. More than ‘the horror, the horror,’ it is that boat’s actions that is the most indelible and existentially terrifying moment in an existentially terrifying novel.