Darkness at Noon

by Arthur Koestler

Early in this project—over ten years ago now—I recall remarking on how much the Modern Library went in for picaresque tales. In the bottom half of their list, there are simply a lot of tales about tramps. But more towards the top, the overrepresentation switches gears, and now we find ourselves inundated (relatively) by books about Communism. Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon is the latest addition to titles like—to a greater or lesser extent—Nineteen Eighty-Four, Invisible Man, Native Son, & Animal Farm (all better books that this one, incidentally).

Nothing sets this book apart for me. It's about as depressing & absurdist as you might expect any book about a Communist being sentenced to death by none other than the workings of Communism itself. Classic Bitch can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing that she finds this book...simply...not terribly relevant anymore. However, modern readers should not lose sight of the fact that Koestler wrote from experience. He had been imprisoned by Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

Interestingly, this novel only makes it onto the list at all via a technicality. It was actually written in German, whereas to make the Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, you had to be published in English. How'd he get around it? The original manuscript was lost as Koestler and his girlfriend were fleeing the Nazis. The girlfriend had translated it into English earlier though, so that happens to be the version that survived to see the light of publication.

To me, that's a more provocative story than the one contained between the covers of Darkness at Noon. Perhaps a terrible, or terribly naive, thing to say, but in my defense: Come on, Modern Library! We're well into the top ten and I expect GREAT things! At the end of the day, in 2016, Darkness at Noon leaves very little impression; I catch myself ranking it lower than books that have actively irritated me.