J.G. Keely's Reviews > Darkness at Noon

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
May 26, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: novel, fiction, reviewed
Read in April, 2006

A rather strange experience: here is a book which possesses many great qualities--it is well written, has a gripping story, and a great depth of psychology--but it ultimately falls into that secondary tier of modern novels that fail to make a full philosophical exploration of their quandries.

Perhaps the relative slimness of this book--often cited as the best novel of the Twentieth--is related to that shortcoming. While the political message is powerful and the philosophical questioning interesting, both are infrequent and less profound than I grew to wish.

It has always been my preference that a book lay out the whole case, giving both sides of the issue and inviting the reader to think things over and come to some conclusion. I am much less fond of works with 'a message', even if that message is fairly strong, since issues tend to be far too complex to admit a straightforward answer.

As one commentator pointed out, this book's central thesis was not merely an idea at the time of writing, but a worldwide 'experiment in progress'--the experiment of Socialism. But I never felt that the book proved its dour case that the regretable outcome was actually caused by Socialism. There are very few cases where man has even tried to develop some other form of governance, and even after a revolution succeeds, idealism invariably devolves into another oligarchy.

This book has often been compared to 1984, which tackled the same theme, and it's true that Koestler outdoes Orwell in precision of structure, fineness of language, realism, and character psychology, but I still prefer 1984 as an exploration, because it showcases a greater depth and variance of ideas, and has a speculative outlook. Koestler wrote a proof of what had already happened, while Orwell was more concerned with what our past would do to our present, and our future.

Without an influx of progressing ideas to match the deep human conflict, Darkness at Noon became superficial and tedious. Even with good writing, a matching understanding of psychology, and a complex story, without grubbing at deeper concerns a book may inform, but will not inspire.

The birth of Socialism was marked by The Communist Manifesto, but its scope was too narrow, and falling to Hume's is/ought dilemma, the philosophies Marx outlined were never really given form--proving once again there is noting inevitable about an ideal. But this book of its demise shares a similarly narrow view--a gravestone may be a monumental sign, but the dates it gives are not the story of a life.
12 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Darkness at Noon.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

08/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ryan (last edited Feb 11, 2011 03:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan I think the book is short because it illustrates a simple idea. It is a sketch, a brief illustration, of what happens when the end justifies the means; no matter how important the end.

If a person, or a party, has the one piece of certain knowledge required to achieve the betterment of mankind, then any delay in acting on that knowledge is a crime. That is the assumption that the Soviet Union was based on; socialism was the answer to how to lift man out of degradation. They finally had the answer, and if they delayed enacting it for any reason, they would be committing a crime against humanity.

Men have beening dying for all of human history, of hunger, of disease, in wars. So what if a few more die while getting the solution in place? The faster socialism is achieved around the globe, the sooner people stop dying. Nothing must get in its way.

So any means of achieving it is acceptable.

So a grand intention, the betterment of all mankind, when sought by any means, becomes a machine, grinding to bloody paste anything in its path. Even those who conceived the idea.

And in the end, that´s what our hero realizes; that if he truly believes in the ideal, then it is right that he should die. As long as it helps achieve the goal.

What makes the book great is that it is concise, illustrates the idea clearly; and, while it was written, this wasn´t simply an idea, it was an experiment in progress, with millions of bodies to prove it.

message 2: by J.G. Keely (last edited Jan 05, 2008 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

J.G. Keely Ah, an excellent point. It would certainly explain my general lack of connection with this book if it was so particular, focused, and with such an undeaniable message. I tend to find any book that tries to convey a message cannot match one which insists that the reader develop their own message based upon the questions of the text.

The text is also clear and concise, but in that I think it misses the grand danger of political idealism. Reading the various and well-thought treatises of the great political geniuses, whether Plato, Paine, or Marx, we find that their assertion of a holistic system of solutions always falls flat.

Despite the best wishes and ideas of these individuals, we always find we must beware Hume's is/ought conundrum. It seems that no matter how powerful or well-meaning the idea, no government has yet been able to escape simple oligarchy; whether democracy, republic, or socialism was the mask that inequality wore.

In the end, sacrifice can make no god real for very long, no matter how inspired the martyr, nor how numerous the piling corpses.

Kyle Keely wrote: "But I never felt that the book proved its dour case that the regretable outcome was actually caused by Socialism."

Interesting that you say that Keely. It's been many years since I've read the novel, and a lot of the details are fuzzy, but perhaps I got a different message out of the book than you did.

Perhaps I need to go back and re-read it, but I thought the message of the book wasn't so much that Socialism caused a dour situation, but that Stalin did. I found the novel to be more of lamentation over what might have been. There was a great experiment happening under Lenin and his Bolshevik buddies but instead of staying true to the vision of what the revolution stood for, Stalin hijacked the movement (hence the imprisoning of old Bolshevik intellectuals).

The main character (forgot his name: Starts with an "R" I think), was part of the old guard and was one of those who was saying things like "Hey, this isn't what Lenin wanted." And, "This isn't right." Hence Stalin's great purge.

Sorry. Like I said, it's been way too long since I read it and I could be way off, but I remember the novel being more of a scathing attack on Stalin's betrayal of the Revolution, rather than an Orwellian portrayal of the dangers of totalitarian rule.

J.G. Keely Yeah, that's sort of what I'm getting at in the next sentence after the one your quoted:

"There are very few cases where man has even tried to develop some other form of governance, and even after a revolution succeeds, idealism invariably devolves into another oligarchy."

That what Stalin did is hardly the unexpected outcome, since it has been the outcome after every great revolution, and, that being the case, Koestler's analysis lacked profundity, as as it seemed to present no new observations on the nature of tyranny. It presented a very real case of the disenfranchisement and suffering of one disillusioned man, but for all its realism, I had trouble connecting this personal journey to the larger ideas which the book nodded to but did not finally confront.

message 5: by Kyle (last edited Feb 03, 2013 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle Ah, I see what you mean, and that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification!

I suppose I was simply never looking for Koestler to make the argument regarding inevitability of outcome, so naturally I couldn't be disappointed for not finding it. :) Thanks for your comments and response; I now have more to think about, and will probably have to revisit the book so I can look at it with new eyes.

message 6: by Elhumidio2 (new)

Elhumidio2 "a gravestone may be a monumental sign, but the dates it gives are not the story of a life."

I love that analogy.

J.G. Keely Yeah, it's a classic--wish I could claim credit for it.

back to top