Darkness at Noon ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian-born British writer who lived from 1909 to 1983. He was a Communist who quit the Communist party when he became disillusioned with Stalinism. This personal experience forms the basis for his most famous novel, Darkness at Noon, published in 1940.
Nicholas Rubashov is the fictional protagonist of Darkness of Noon, the “one against many.” He is a man in his fifties, once an important party figure, one of the men who built the Party (Communist) up. When he objects to the direction the Party is taking, however, he engages in “counter-revolutionary” activities. He ends up in prison to await his fate, which is certain from the outset.
In his tiny prison cell, Rubashov has plenty of time for reflection. He recounts his past life, the experiences that has brought him to his present state, and the people he betrayed along the way, including a loyal secretary named Arlova with whom he was romantically involved. He did all the things a Party member was supposed to do, until he had a change of heart and came to believe the Party was ruining the country with its philosophy of “the end justifies the means” and “the individual doesn’t matter—only the state matters.” In other words, he believed the Party was sacrificing the present for the future.
While in prison, Rubashov has many interrogations, which become increasingly brutal. At first his interrogator is Ivanov, an old friend. Ivanov doesn’t take a hard enough line with people like Rubashov, so he is killed and replaced by Gletkin, a young, ruthless, heartless, not-very-bright Party man who doesn’t believe in sentiment or in the importance of old friendships. Gletkin has only one goal in mind with people like Rubashov: to seal his fate and hasten his inevitable conclusion.
Darkness at Noon is bleak reading but only moderately difficult to read, despite its heavy subject matter. It’s not for everybody, of course, but is considered one of the great novels of the twentieth century, a story about an “individual” in a system in which the individual doesn’t matter. It is not light reading, but it moves along at a fairly rapid pace and is under 300 pages long; in the hands of another writer, I can see how it might easily have been twice as long.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp