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Reviewed by bookshelfish.blogspot.com
on November 18, 2011
This is one of those books that I have been wanting to read for about twenty years, have started a few times, have been somewhat uneasy about my ignorance of - and now, finally, I did it. Was it worth the long wait? Did I spend my time wondering just what on earth had been the delay, delighting in a classic that had almost gotten away from me, ready to pass it on to friends and review it glowingly for you, my trusting public?
A Brave New World is, in my opinion, one of the most overrated books I have ever read. There are so many flaws in this story and silliness in the writing I scarcely know where to begin. It isn't that there are no redeeming factors to it - although there are few. However, to have this book anywhere near a list of classics or must reads, or (I can hardly believe it) greatest books of the twentieth century, is laughable. Yes, I do realize that sometimes a good book can suffer because of it's lofty reputation and often will not quite live up to what the reader expects. With that in mind, I tried to be objective and shelve any preconceived ideas I had about it. Even taking this rather liberal view, though, I just did not like it.
To start, my first objection is the lack of depth to this new world. The picture Huxley paints is incomplete. At no time does one lose oneself in this society, feeling the air the characters breath and tasting the food they taste. One doesn't cry when they cry or laugh when they laugh. It all remains sort of cerebral. The characters are weak, perhaps intentionally so. There is nobody to like or dislike, there is no protagonist. The whole thing reads like a first draft that desperately needs to be fleshed out a bit.
Furthermore,the one thing that Huxley seems to really want to hit us over the head with is sex. The characters all "have" each other all the time, having another person being as routine as going to coffee with them. The problem is this is quite literally the overarching idea of the whole book. If one can recall anything of A Brave New World weeks after reading the book, it is that sex is readily available (as are drugs). Apparently, if you glean nothing else from this book, you really, really need to glean that much. This free love is celebrated very easily because the theories of Freud have been manipulated and adapted to the point that the notion of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers is obsolete; birth control is carried on a woman's person all the time and everyone is completely autonomous. It is an interesting subject and one that could have been explored much better if Huxley had wanted to; but he seems satisfied with an almost adolescent preoccupation with highly attractive women armed with birth control and ready to fornicate all the time. The concept never gets much further than that.
The world Huxley imagines is one where all languages except English have ceased to exist (although there are different castes of peoples which bear such titles as Alpha, Beta, etc.) This inconsistency is never addressed. What Huxley must have thought was a clever play on words in switching "Lord" (God) for "Ford" (creator of the assembly line) is repeated ad nauseam throughout the book. Laboratories produce scores of identical twins all designed to enjoy factory work, and children are reared in state-run nurseries where they are brainwashed in their sleep and - Huxley never avoiding a chance to mention sex - they are encouraged to engage in erotic play with another. These amateurish ideas are littered throughout the book and make it more of a comedy than a commentary. Further reducing the book's sophistication is the amazing coincidence of the main characters running into a "savage" on one of their trips who just happens to be the spawn of one their own kind (a civilized person). The odysseys of this savage into the modern world is a storyline for which I simply had difficulty drumming up enthusiasm. It revealed nothing of human nature other than pat, simplistic assertions that it is better to live life properly, pain and all, than to spend it having random sex and taking drugs. Which I do not find to be an earth shattering theses.
To compare this book to 1984, which many do, is an insult to a book that I consider to be a masterpiece. I have re-read 1984 many times and never fail to enjoy it; I had difficulty reading A Brave New World even once. While there is some enjoyment to be found in the ideas put forth in this "classic", it is about the same amount of enjoyment one would get from reading a paper written by a junior in high school entitled, 'What I think the Future Would Look Like,' - a paper that would, no doubt, be censored by her teacher for being too preoccupied with sex and excessive in uninteresting puns.