Tag: Africa

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

Posted May 4, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian BarryTitle: The Temporary Gentleman (Goodreads)
Author: Sebastian Barry
Published: Faber & Faber, 2014
Pages: 270
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sebastian Barry is often credited for the way he captures the quintessential Irish life, especially with the McNulty family. The Temporary Gentleman tells the story of Jack McNulty, an Irish engineer that gets commissioned into the British Army in the Second World War. I will admit that this is my first Sebastian Barry novel but I had a fair idea on what I was getting myself into. The title alone gave me an idea of the type of man this is following, only temporarily a refined gentleman. It was also the idea that Jack wanted to be a gentleman but thought his social-economical background prohibited that.

The Temporary Gentleman serves are a retrospective of Jack’s life as he reflects on the choices he made along the way. But unlike similar stories like this, Jack wasn’t a nice person; in fact he was a real bastard. A drunk and a degenerate gambler, he not only ruined he own life but that of his wife, Mai. He joined the army to escape, not a honourable thing to do but I get a sense that Jack may of felt like this was the only time he was a gentleman.  Leaving Africa would mean he would have to return to his past, but is this what makes he such a bastard?

I will admit that I went into The Temporary Gentleman with the idea that this was a post-colonial novel; I expected it to explore the effects of empiricism of Kenya as they were working toward their independence. I only guess that from the synopsis and I guess you can say there was some glimpses of this, the way the Kenyans treated Jack as an ex Major. In hindsight, if I was to look at this novel as post-colonial, I should have been focusing on the imperial effects England had over Ireland. Considering this took place after the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).

However I decided to look at this novel through the lens of psychoanalytical theory. I’m no expert at literary theories but I do try and this was a very in-depth and psychological look at Jack McNulty and the way he sees himself. A look at his mistakes and narcissism and how damaging his choose are for him and the people close to him. The Temporary Gentleman almost serves as a psychological profile and if I knew more about psychology I would try to analyse it.

I have to except that my literary criticism skills are still very lacking, I might have been able to handle this novel through the lens of post-colonialism but it was too focused on Jake McNulty to get much out of it. Psychoanalytical theory is something I’m very interested in and possibly my next focus in the world of literary criticism. All I can really say is that Barry makes it impossible to sympathise with Jack at all.

Sebastian Barry appears to know his craft; his approach to the novel was expertly executed. The prose in The Temporary Gentleman makes the whole experience bearable; you can help but enjoy the writing while grinding your teeth at Jack McNulty. I don’t feel like I can truly recommend this novel, there are plenty of unlikeable characters that are more thrilling to read about but I will be returning Sebastian Barry in the future.


Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Posted May 8, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradTitle: Heart of Darkness (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Conrad
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1899
Pages: 225
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Heart of Darkness tells the tale of Charlie Marlow’s journey on an ivory transporter down an unknown river in the Congo. What he sees horrifies and perplexes him, calling into question the very basis of civilisation and human nature. The story follows this commercial agent and the object of his obsession, the notorious ivory-procurement agent Mr Kurtz. This novella has become an important piece in the western canon for its range of themes and scholarly values.

I remember reading this book a few years back and while I thought it was an interesting book, I never really grasped it completely (and I’m not sure if I ever will) but for comparison to what I know now and then, check out my review here. To begin with we need to gain an understanding of Joseph Conrad’s life because there are a lot of life experiences in this book. Born Josef Teodor Konrad Walecz Korzeniowski in Russian-ruled Poland in 1857; this part of Poland is now part of Ukraine. Both parents were political activists and as a result of their participation in the Polish independence movement they were exiled to Northern Russia in 1863. At sixteen he dropped out of school to work on a French merchant ship, sailing the West Indies as an apprentice. Later he joined a British ship where he served as a merchant for ten years, during this time he gained the rank of captain and became a naturalized British citizen. During a trip in 1890 sailing through the Belgian Congo and Congo River he got really sick and had to retire from sailing and focused his energy on writing. This means Joseph Conrad must have grown up speaking Polish and Russian, learning French at some point and then English. Although he often struggled to write in his adopted language, he is now considered one of the greatest prose stylists in English literature.

There are many themes explored in this book, so much so that I think I would need to keep reading this book again and again to discover them. Though major themes include slavery (the effect the British had on Africa) as well the author’s problems with Colonialism and Imperialism. There are a few other themes I would much prefer exploring. First of all, the idea of alienation; both Conrad and Marlow are both outsiders. The entire novel questions what alienation and loneliness can do to a person over an extended period of time, especially since they are in hostile environments. Even the doctor warns Marlow prior to his departure of changes to his personality that may be produced by a long stay in another country.  Prolonged solitude seems to have damaging effects on the sailors, which leads me into another major theme; insanity. In the case of Kurtz, the loneliness lead to literal madness, while others like Marlow’s predecessor, Captain Fresleven was described as a gentle soul that transformed into a violent one.

There are other themes I really would love to talk about but for the sake of keeping this review a decent length I will just highlight them. Heart of Darkness also looks at the way Belgium is exploiting the Congo, order verse disorder, duty verse responsibility, doubt verse ambiguity, race verse racism and finally violence and cruelty. All these, plus many more, are reasons why this book has been studied. It is a very difficult book to explore, I found myself rereading passages trying to get more out of it. I know at one point near the start of reading this I thought I would never get enough meaning out of this book but eventually it opened up to me.

There are a lot of symbols within the book as well, beginning with the title and the setting; Heart of Darkness deep in the heart of the Congo, the centre of the deep dark Africa. Even the fact that the entire story is told in the late afternoon as the sun sets is a motif of Africa. There are a lot more in this novel but I want to quickly talk about the movie adaptation Apocalypse Now. Sure there are some similarities but not enough to really consider the movie to be based on this novella. There are more similarities with Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in the way the book starts out, also with Bram Stokers’ Dracula with the suspension between life and death. So how are they the similar, since one is set in the Congo and the other during the Vietnam War? The very basic answer would be that both look at the deterioration of humanity as a result of conflict, one via imperialism and one by war.

I would love to talk about the narrative and how there are two narrators, Marlow and someone anonymous. And how all the scenes on the Nellie are obviously an introductory and critique to the story that it doesn’t go away after the intro. Marlow’s narrative is often interrupted by this unnamed narrator as they listen to the story as a way for Conrad to tell the reader to notice different themes. There are also the proses in the book, poetic and while difficult, you can get swept away and not really notice just what Conrad is trying to do. So many things I want to talk about but I have to cut this review short.

Heart of Darkness is a really complex book but if you take the time to break it apart and explore the text critically, you’ll find there is so much to appreciate. It’s like a fine meal, it can be enjoyed without any thought, but if you take the time to see how each element complements each other you end up enjoying the novella a whole lot more. It all comes together with a sense of satisfaction that while you might not know everything Joseph Conrad was trying to say, you know enough for the book to have real value.


Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Posted July 6, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradTitle: Heart of Darkness (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Conrad
Published: Penguin, 1899
Pages: 200
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When you think of books required to consider yourself ‘well read’, one book that is often in that list is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ve been told that watching Apocalypse Now doesn’t count; however if you have read the book and seen the movie, fun can be found spotting the similarities. Heart of Darkness is a difficult book to read but if you stick with it, there is a certain elegance in the novel, as well as the fact that it’s heavily symbolic.

One of the more interesting aspects of this novel is the narrative style. It’s not narrated by the protagonist Marlow but an unnamed listener of his stories. Almost like the narrator is the reader, standing there listening to Marlow tell his tales. This is happening while the boat is anchored on the River Thames near London, though his tales are of him captaining a steamship in Africa.

The blend of feeling like a shipmate listening to the tales, and the fact that Marlow struggles to talk about the torments, makes this an excellent representation of the duality of human nature. While it was a fantastic book, the writing style did make it difficult to enjoy this book as much as I wanted.