The first five pages, I’d decided: nah. The tone is all bouncy and frivolous and a little Hooray Henry. The language is good, but he doesn’t have the magic he had in Heart of Darkness.
Once the first storm hit the ship in the story, the ship was derailed, but the prose was set aright. The amazing use of language was back, just as strong as in Heart of Darkness, though gloomy in a quite different way.
It’s still not a perfect work the way Heart of Darkness is. Heart of Darkness maintains its tone from the first page and the framing scene; Youth takes time to get started. The rueful comments by the narrator about how bold and naive youth is are tacked on, they are not really integrated into the narrative. There’s a couple of passages that veer too close to sentimentality.
But that’s 90% as opposed to 100%. It remains magisterial. It remains what prose should always have been.