I’ve recently been trying to read a book called Nostromo by the author of Heart of Darkness, but while I’ve found it occasionally amusing I’ve given up on it.
Nostromo is (allegedly) about an Italian mariner (the nickname translates as “boatswain” [aka bo’sun]) who works at a small port town of a fictional South American country prone to revolutions. The reader barely meets Nostromo, though; he’s very much in the background (at least as far as I’ve read). Supposedly he is eventually embroiled in a scheme to steal a boatload of silver from the nearby mine, but I’ve seen no evidence of it so far.
Heart of Darkness is short enough that there are fewer dull patches and you are motivated to push through them. With Nostromo, even after 150-ish pages the real plot hasn’t gotten going; it’s all introducing characters and meandering through backstory (most annoyingly by skipping merrily back and forth along the timeline to the extent where I was frequently confused as to when various events were happening). There is also no sense that things will change anytime soon. I’d moved from part one to part two of the book, but it seemed an arbitrary distinction (c.f. What is a Chapter?).
This sort of beginning is the sort of thing that writers are frequently advised to never do. I know good writers learn the rules then break them, but the rules are there for a reason, and any breaking of them should be done consciously and purposefully. It’s possibly a stylistic choice to convey the laid-back and haphazard governance of the country, and various characters’ focus on history (to a greater or lesser extent). And that’s all well and good, but I still feel it’s gone on too long, and I’m not interested in slogging through the remaining 300-odd pages.