Brave New World

olive bnwAnother revisited book – this Christmas just seems to be the break of re-reading, doesn’t it?

I can’t remember, honestly, when I first read Brave New World.  I want to say freshman year of high school… but I can’t be sure.  I didn’t remember much of it – to be honest, I don’t think I understood much of it at a real level at the time.  I remembered the “everyone’s drugged and happy” bit but I completely forgot about The Savage and Mustapha Mond (great name, right?) and the general plot.  So this was a re-reading that was truly deserved.  I was, essentially, reading the book for the first time.

The thing I think I most definitely missed on the first pass was the Shakespeare references.  Didn’t really like Shakespeare as a lad – wasn’t until college, really, that I started to get into his work and really find that I not only loved it but had a gift for it (and for English in general).  So watching The Savage spout off Shakespeare because he knew all of it because it was the only thing he really had to know… I got all of those references.  Even the ones Huxley never bothered to explain (and he sadly explains away most of them, taking the fun away from recalling what play they come from).  This book is a testament to the power of the Bard – that’s something no one ever mentions when they talk about it.  I loved that part.

What I didn’t love was the tone.  Huxley’s writing felt a bit like it must feel to take soma, the drug of choice in Huxley’s future.  There was something numb about it, something easy and flowing I’ll admit… but also cloudy.  That softening of the edges, that lack of real definition, that detached feeling that comes from (say) smoking a bit too much pot all at once.  Not that I’ve ever done that.  Seriously.  But anyway.  The book just has a quality that I didn’t love – it felt too glancing, especially for such an intense and important idea.

That idea, of course, is a satirical look at a potential future society – one where we’ve thrown out the old and beautiful (as Mustapha Mond says) because it’s better to have the new and superficial.  Feelies instead of books, perfect aging, no sickness or disease, promiscuous loving, and children are grown, not born.  It’s strange to read this book in 2010, to be honest.  The Matrix is a cultural milestone and that phrase – “children are no longer born, they are grown” – immediately makes you think of Lawrence Fishbourne and those mirror glasses.  The tabloids (and, hell, even the major ‘reputable’ news sources) are constantly talking about so-and-so’s plastic surgery to make them look younger/sexier/less real.  People are going crazy over 3D movies and turning even farther away from the printed word.  Nothing in Brave New World is shocking, today.

Maybe that’s why the book fails, to some extent.  The Savage isn’t important or sympathetic because we’re in the middle of The Savage and “normal” society.  Sure, Ford isn’t going to replace God at this point – but there are children growing up who have no idea about Shakespeare.  Who believe that monogamy is a bad thing.  And yet here I am, writing on a computer, surrounded by my records and my gadgets and things.  We are in the middle and it is unclear which way we should/will go.  Sometimes I want to just go out to a deserted lighthouse, like The Savage, and live off the land and use my mind… but sometimes, I will admit, I wish I could just abolish the unhappiness that creeps about the corners of my life (as it does everyones lives) and float off into a soma sleep.

Rating: 3 out of 5.  The lack of real plot for the first half of the novel, the lack of anything beyond superficial characterization, the sheer ambivalence I felt towards all of the characters and their stories… this is what hurts this book.  That and the fact that, simply, it hasn’t aged well.  It isn’t shocking – it just seems, well, like reality.  When you think about that, though, that’s what gets scary – because Huxley was predicting, not observing.  Still, his observations (a sort of mirror twin to Orwell’s) are potent and scary – they show the dangers of socialism just as Orwell showed the dangers of fascism.  But, of course, there’s more to both of them that that simplistic statement.  You ought to read the books, though, to understand that “more to it” – because this is a book that everyone should read, even if it may be too late to heed its warning.

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2 comments

  1. Hi, was interested in your comments about Brave New World as I reread the book a few months ago. First read it at age 15, so 40 year gap! I must say I found the book unsatisfactory for the reasons you have given – lack of empathetic characters and a style of writing that can be a bit preachy.

    But the book had a huge impact on me when I first read it.

    Two things I noticed on re-reading. The alpha people were all males. Women are betas! Not sure if you would get away with that nowadays.

    And the small children playing sex games would be considered very controversial these days.

    Anyway, interesting to read your thoughts.

    Have you read 1984?

    • Thanks for writing!!

      I have read 1984. A few times, actually, although not since about four years ago. I found Orwell’s future to be much more entertainingly written – although it never packed the same punch as the first time I read it. Still, it has always affected me more, perhaps due to the thought that our society has always been closer to going Orwellian than Huxleyian.

      Plus, in terms of impact, I feel like BNW has sort of been forgotten in favor of 1984 – series like The Hunger Games owe a huge debt to that totalitarian view Orwell described whereas you don’t see so many ‘utopian’ futures anymore. Sigh of the times, perhaps…

      Interesting thoughts too – I didn’t realize until this time as well that the Alphas were all-male. And as a kid, I feel like the sex games part didn’t quite register – but you’re absolutely right, that sort of thing would be making HUGE waves if it was in a major novel today.

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