Saturday, June 27, 2009

Conrad v. Conrad

Joseph Conrad’s masterwork, Heart of Darkness, first published in book form in 1902, is one of the best known works of fiction in the English language. It was the inspiration -- and more -- for Francis Ford Coppola’s amazing 1979, Apocalypse Now starring a brilliant but off-kilter Marlon Brando and a beautifully sweaty Martin Sheen. The book itself is at once darkly luminous and disturbing. An unforgettable novel that has left an indelible mark on the literature of this language.

Though he died in 1924, Conrad’s line has gone on. And on. One of the better known of his descendants is Lauren Conrad, whose own dark heart appears to beat for fashion. Twenty-three-year-old Lauren’s life is being documented on the MTV hit reality series The Hills. The Hills follows Lauren through her fashion-focused world. It’s not a world that invites literary expectations. Using the word “literary” in the same sentence as Lauren’s debut novel, L.A. Candy (HarperCollins), is probably pushing things a bit. (Well, they both do have words, after all.) But stir in the pedigree and -- voila! -- if nothing else, the publication of the novel calls up the potential for satire. Here The Daily Beast answers that call with a quiz that challenges the reader to take a stab at telling the difference between the work of Conrads, old and new. In some cases, making the determination would demand an expert eye:
A. The place was beautiful, all vintage ivory wallpaper and polished oak floors. In the center of the room, a circular glass table displayed a single white orchid.

B. The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead.
With others, it’s a little easier to tell.
A. To tell you the truth, I was morbidly anxious to change my shoes and socks.

B. “You look pretty in that dress. And those peep-hole shoes are hot.”
Either way, it’s a fun exercise that invites us to laugh at our own pretensions. (And I’m still not going to watch The Hills.)

So can Conrad fille write? I don’t know: HarperCollins -- probably wisely -- didn’t send us a copy. The reviews I’ve seen have mostly been more about the fashionista author than they have about what’s actually in the book, though the cover and the publisher’s promotional material both paint an astonishingly empty picture. (“Los Angeles is all about the sweet life: hot clubs, cute guys, designer ... everything. Nineteen-year-old Jane Roberts can’t wait to start living it up. She may be in L.A. for an internship, but Jane plans to play as hard as she works, and has enlisted her BFF Scarlett to join in the fun.”) But as Sherryl Connelly points out in her review for The New York Daily News, “what the heck. No reality stars were harmed in the making of this novel. And Conrad has a future to forge. With two more books to come, she has at least one iron in the fire.”


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