Remember trying to read “Moby-Dick” in high school? It was awful: Melville’s knotty prose and madman plotting were rendered in minuscule type in a claustrophobic paperback edition–it was like drowning in a stew of language. But I was lucky–years later, I made a discovery at my local bookstore (holler, @Powells): a stately, oversized edition with breathable type and, best of all, woodcut engravings that gave you a visual break from Melville’s insane story. I increasingly fell in love with it as I read, and nowadays, “Moby-Dick” is probably my favorite novel.
My turnaround with Melville made me wish all of those classics I resented having to read in high school would find their way back to me, complete with pictures. Artist Matt Kish has answered my call with a new edition of Joseph Conrad’s classic (also despised by my teenage self), “Heart of Darkness.” Each right-hand page bears the text of Conrad’s novel, set very readably on thick, creamy paper, and on each left-hand page is a vivid, striking image that corresponds to the text. For instance, here’s the image opposite the lines, “We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows–cannibals–in their place”:
I realize that the physical shape a novel takes should not alter your experience of a story, but Kish’s edition of “Darkness” presents a counter-argument. Beyond the pleasure of reading such a well-produced book, there’s brilliance in Kish’s illustrations in that they don’t attempt realism in the slightest. Rather, they’re like the hallucinatory images from a fever dream, which have the effect of displacing you further from your physical surroundings and pulling you deeper into the story, without stage-directing your experience. “The mind of man is capable of anything,” Conrad writes, and Kish illustrates:
Conrad’s novel has had its psychedelic afterlife. Frances Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” a Vietnam-ized rendering of “Heart of Darkness,” has become so culturally potent that in coming back to the novel I half-expected to see Conrad’s storyteller, Charlie Marlow, hazy with opium or freaking out in a hotel room like Martin Sheen in the movie. But Marlow is no smoky-voiced burnout: He’s a vibrant raconteur, a yarn-spinner not unlike Melville’s Ishmael (though better at sticking to the point). Yet, the vision of darkness Conrad shows us is every bit as brutal as Coppola’s…. Read the rest on Bookish