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Editorial Reviews

"The horror! The horror!" In this brooding and justly celebrated novella of 1902, seaman Charles Marlow is cruising quietly down the Thames at dusk with some friends. As night begins to fall, he tells them of his harrowing journey down an African river in search of the unscrupulous and near-legendary ivory trader named Kurtz, a quest deep into inky spiritual and symbolic darkness. Acclaimed Irish actor/director Kenneth Branagh impersonates Marlow in this recording. Admirably, while fully playing the drama, he never goes overboard. He plays the tale for the great yarn that it is. But had he taken more cognizance of its trajectory and subtleties, he would have made the listening experience far richer than he has.

Publisher's Summary

Prose that demands to be read aloud requires a special kind of narrator. For the Audible Signature Classics edition of Joseph Conrad’s atmospheric masterpiece, Heart of Darkness, we called upon four-time Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh’s performance is riveting because he reads as though he’s telling a ghost story by a campfire, capturing the story’s sense of claustrophobia, while hinting at the storyteller Marlow’s own creeping madness. Heart of Darkness follows Captain Marlow into the colonial Congo where he searches for a mysterious ivory trader, Kurtz, and discovers an evil that will haunt him forever.

With this landmark work, Conrad is credited with bringing the novel into the twentieth century; we think Branagh brings it into the twenty-first.

Stay tuned for more one-of-a-kind performances from actors David Hyde Pierce, Leelee Sobieski, Tim Curry, and more, only from Audible Signature Classics.

Public Domain (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Acclaimed Irish actor/director Kenneth Branagh impersonates Marlow in this recording. Admirably, while fully playing the drama, he never goes overboard. He plays the tale for the great yarn that it is." (AudioFile)

What members say

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The (Beautiful and Appalling) Horror!

Kenneth Branagh gives a mesmerizing reading of Heart of Darkness, bringing out all the darkly beautiful surfaces and bleakly existential undercurrents of Joseph Conrad???s novella, as well as convincingly voicing all the characters, from the sensitive and scarred British Marlow to the slimy Belgian trading company men, creepy Russian disciple, and charismatic and appalling Kurtz and his ever-grieving fianc??e.

The book has been criticized for portraying Africans as sub-human, and it is true that Conrad (and hence Branagh) gives almost no voice to the native population, but I find in Heart of Darkness less racist condescension towards the Africans and more moral outrage towards their European colonial exploiters.

The nearly four-hour audiobook, during which Marlow recounts his journey into the Congo to find the ???genius??? trading agent Kurtz, quickly caught me and carried me inexorably towards ???The horror! The horror!??? and its haunting aftermath. It left me stunned and grimly impressed (though somehow not depressed) by its disturbing depiction of the raping of Africa by colonial powers like Belgium (taking countless tons of ivory in exchange for worthless glass beads and shabby fabrics, imposing incomprehensible laws onto the native peoples and brutally punishing them for the slightest infractions, and so on), and by its timely application to the developed world???s current exploitation of the Congo (???conflict minerals???) and of Africa in general (diamonds, oil and other resources). But the greatness of the novella lies in its transcending specific examples like Africa and universalizing the heart of darkness to include England in the time of the Romans and all human beings in any time, exposing the heart of darkness in all of us.

14 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A wonderful listen

Kenneth Branagh's reading of this classic is truly wonderful, perfectly suited for Conrad's most famous story. I've listened to it twice now and found myself smiling at just how nuanced Branagh's reading can be. This is a great listen, both in terms of the narration and Conrad's timeless writing. Find a quiet spot and enjoy!

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Press
  • Lyndhurst, NJ, United States
  • 01-09-11

Brilliant Performance

Kenneth Branagh has shared his prodigious talent with the world of audiobooks for more than 20 years. THE HEART OF DARKNESS for Audible, Inc. is his first foray into the latest medium of downloadable literature. Like his previous recordings, THE HEART OF DARKNESS is presented as a performance rather than a mere narration of this turn-of-the 20th century, English classic. Branagh uses his musical voice to transform into multiple characters, male and female, as well as individuals of various nationalities, within the story as it evolves. For most of the near 4 hour running time of this unabridged edition, Branagh plays the part of the main storyteller, Marlowe, an introspective sailor, leisurely relaying the tale of his long journey in a battered steamboat, up the Congo River to find Mr. Kurtz, the renowned company agent at the inner station.

It is easy to empathize with Marlowe’s experiences as he decribes: his encounters with widespread inefficiency and brutality by civilized men in the Company’s stations; his growing fascination with Kurtz; the intimidating nature of the vast jungle and its peoples; and the realization of the amoral depths to which a man can sink.

THE HEART OF DARKNESS is an absorbing story with the metaphor of darkness at its center, told by a patient and poetic author. Listening to Audible, Inc.’s production of THE HEART OF DARKNESS read by Kenneth Branagh adds another dimension to this multi layered tale of real and perceived darkness.

14 of 19 people found this review helpful

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Overrated book

This short book is often cited as one of those classics that a well-read person should read. I like classics, and my favorite literature is 19th century, and I love hearing it read to me. (Maybe because this just missed the 19th century, it falls short.) I figured I'd listen to this, especially after I heard it referred to in a lecture series (that I wasn't all that impressed with, either, but that is another matter). However, I found this narration by one character, Marlow, of his experience in Africa quite lacking in adequate plot. You don't really learn much about any characters other than him, the narrator, and even his character is not very developed. Though the Kenneth Branagh does a quite good performance, including varying the voices and accents for some characters, these characters do not contribute enough to make the recitation by Marlow interesting. It is also not really likely that Marlow would imitate the Russian accent, for example, of a particular character in a real telling, but never mind. The only reason I can see that this book has been included on required reading lists in high schools and colleges is that it is short, so students might actually read the whole thing. But for that criterion alone there must be many better selections that this, even for the purpose of discussing colonialism.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Finally!

Would you consider the audio edition of Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh to be better than the print version?

I have loved this story for a very long time, but for some reason it never resonated and moved me until I listened to Kenneth Branagh bring it to life! 'nuff said!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • J
  • 09-10-15

Not the stuffy classic I was expecting

What made the experience of listening to Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh the most enjoyable?

I wasn't assigned to read this in school, but it was a good whispersync deal. Learning that the film "Apocalypse Now" was based on the story also inspired me to listen.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Kurtz is a mysterious and intriguing real big baddie. So much of the book examines him, though he is present in the story only a brief time

What about Kenneth Branagh’s performance did you like?

His voice acting displays many emotions as the tone of the story changes. It is easy to understand which characters speak. He is excellent!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Kenneth Branagh is amazing

Kenneth Branagh does an amazing job reading this most difficult of books. He brings it to life so that it can be understood. Listen to this book. Then read the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book!

it was my first foray into Audible and not one to be regretted. highly recommended

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A book made to be heard

"Heart of Darkness," for me, is a book meant for listening. The language, the economy of description, and the brevity of the story are all the more engrossing when read aloud. Phrases ring in the memory: "My ivory, my intended..." So many more.

Conrad's characters continue to live in the imagination: the now world-weary Marlow, the mad charismatic Kurtz, the odd little "Harlequin," the innocent fiancée. Africa itself is a character larger than life. Who could ever forget these people, or these places?

I came to this book later in life, long after reading Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost" and studying African politics at university. So I did not come from an educational system that assigned this for college prep. But when I did read it, it began a long love affair with Conrad and his "voice," if you will, that spins the English language into gold.

I truly think Conrad is someone it takes a bit of life experience to appreciate fully. "Heart of Darkness," like Hesse's "Steppenwolf," is often read very early in life, but both improve on acquaintance. I read each one at least once every five years and find new insights every time. I hope you'll re-read Conrad if he was "forced upon you." There isn't a writer quite like him, and few are as rewarding.

Branagh's narration surprised me. I love him as an actor but didn't know if he would be right for old Marlow the storyteller without a little more age on him! I was wrong. His narration was all it should be.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Rendition

Very, very good. It's better read aloud than read in a book, I think, at least by Kenneth Branaugh. It aided my understanding and retention.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • alesdair
  • 10-15-13

Just great

Would you listen to Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh again? Why?

Branagh is a cut above any other reader I have listened to before

What was one of the most memorable moments of Heart of Darkness: A Signature Performance by Kenneth Branagh?

If you are a fan of Apocalypse now then you will particularly enjoy understanding where the source material was drawn from.<br/>No doubt a tale of its time but listened to in that context, massively enjoyable.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Ros
  • 04-13-13

Brilliant rendition!

Conrad's prose in Branagh's voice is a wonderful combination. The power of this novel is enhanced by the actor's sensitive handling of mood and tone. I have found myself listening more than once to some passages, where the author's emotive descriptions reward further attention. The narrative is fast paced and gripping and the creation of atmosphere superb.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Woody 2001
  • 09-30-17

Could not finish it.

Well read but so so boring, could not get into it at all. Not for me I'm afraid.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 02-27-16

Excellent book

Lovely performance from Mr Branagh. The story has a beautiful sense of vagueness, as of memories of the distant past. Though, like memory, some specific events are in crystal-clear focus. The ending, out of Africa, suffers slightly for the very same vagueness that worked so beautifully up to then.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • 03-06-15

A reminder to question the conceits of culture

This is a story laden with history and the shame of that history , also a story that has metamorphosed into Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness: A Film-makers Apocalypse A documentary of the making of the film that resembles some of the struggles in the book. This makes it hard to judge or criticize without those influences prejudicing the commentary.
It is still a poignant story of the worst of colonial Africa, and the attitudes of the period. but at the beginning the narrator comments about how in the more distant past of Britain they had been the savages of the Roman empire giving us a glimpse that power and abuse are timeless.
If you have ever wonder why so many animals are nearly extinct this book and its language is a very good example, the companies main interest is ivory but the one word never mention in the book is elephant and all that this men do is collect ivory. The casual and institutionalised abuse of the locals is I am sure described in a very sanitized way, I suspect that the HORROR was much larger. Conrad also describes and inefficient colonial force and wonder why the people of this lands never just wiped them out, it is ponder many writers have made about other conflicts the best reasoning and perhaps the saddest was by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago “ you surrender because you think “It’s a mistake! They will set things right!” but they is just you, the other "they" are not there to set things right but to implement the new regime and so it goes.
Mr kurtz is not a truly well drawn character and the devotion felt by others seems strange to the modern reader; unlike Kurtz in Apocalypse Now who is charismatic and mad with modern Horror.
A good book to look back and not forget the unlimited inhumanity of man in the pursuit of profit. A reminder to question the conceits of culture and ideology.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • LorLor
  • 01-27-15

Unforgettable!

Not my usual choice of book, but I was gripped from the beginning. Kenneth Brannagh really brought it to life

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • chris
  • 12-08-16

Prepare to never be the same

A story that speaks to the hearts of all men. Branagh brings the dense and conversational prose of the old sailor and adventurer Marlow to fantastic and awful life in this excellent reading of Conrad's classic tale. Darkness is timeless, placeless, it is within us and those of us who have seen and felt it wear it like a veil, walk with it as a companion whose shadow stretches out around us and casts a horrible shade over us.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Russell
  • 05-21-16

Amazing!

Superb narration, having read the book myself I can't believe how Branagh's performance modernises the book. He also closes the gap between Apocalypse Now and the novel that inspired it. More signature performances please

8 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • S. Kadhim
  • 10-21-16

Not what I expected

Any additional comments?

I found this book to be much more of a drag than I would've thought. Slow and full of xenophobic and racist comments (queue the cry of "but it's meant to be!"), this wouldn't have bothered me so much, given it's from another time, if the story had actually been engaging. I might have "gone native" too if I had to listen to this more than once.<br/><br/>I was intrigued by the character of Kurt, obviously, but other than that, I wasn't that engaged. Especially during the boat scenes where the natives are spear-chucking away, and I had no idea what was going on. Besides that, we take an awful long time to get anywhere.<br/><br/>I know, I know, this is meant to be literary and claustrophobic, and while it is certainly the latter, I struggle to see how it is the former. Yes, some of it is successfully feverish, but some is just bland, and while I love Kenneth Branagh, not even his narration could inject energy into it.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • petitbilbo
  • 01-30-16

Excellent performance by Kenneth Branagh

Yes, this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. A masterpiece of world literature read by Sir Kenneth, no doubt a master of his art.

But, although it really is well done, very well read and even the music is well chosen, I have a problem with the concept of "signature performance". As flawless as was Kenneth Branagh's performance, I'm sure I've had the same quality by other, less well known readers...

4 of 6 people found this review helpful