rating: 3 of 5 stars
An excerpt from Darkness at Noon was included in an English class anthology in middle school, and I had always meant to follow up on Rubashov's travails in the face of the Communist purges of the late 1930s. A chance glimpse of this bright red cover at McNally Jackson nearly two decades later served as my madeleine, and who can resist nostalgia?
Rubashov, it turns out, was not the innocent I had imagined from my textbook excerpt, but instead, a lynchpin of the Revolution and the Communist Party, who had helped build the very system that in time would devour him (and who has himself sacrificed many an innocent on the altar of Revolution, and the redemption-by-history it promises). Yet his is no mere youthful revolutionary fervor turned sour: rather, Rubashov remains a true believer almost to the very end, and even as he faces conviction and death remains open to the possibility that "No. 1" (a thinly disguised Stalin) might even be right in liquidating the Rubashovs who represent the Revolution's founding generation.
Rubashov's uncritical acceptance of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, in particular the "objective" nature of the Marxist-Leninist view of history, makes Darkness at Noon seem more than a little dated, but the book's representation of a system where the notion that the ends justify the means has been taken to its logical (and monstrous) conclusion, where the individual is a mere speck against the backdrop of History (and the favorable verdict it promises), remains permanently relevant. As does the dramatic tension of Rubashov's various interrogation sequences. But the novel seems a bit abstract when it moves away from those sequences, as if Koestler were working out an intellectual puzzle rather than recounting the the fate of Rubashov (and in him, that of an age). Indeed, this reader found himself wondering whether the book might not have worked better as a play consisting only of the interrogation scenes: their distilled terror and intensity (by virtue of their representation of a looming inevitability that is simply a function of the absolute pitilessness of the system, and of the juxtaposition of the frail individual with that system) is ideally suited to the theatrical space.
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