14 July 2014 Leave a comment
Author: Ray Bradbury
Summary: Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic novel of a post-literate future, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ stands alongside Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which over fifty years from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5
Review: I wouldn’t liken this to 1984 or Brave New World. I think these three get lumped together a lot because they are all popular dystopias that were closer to the reality of the future than anyone at the time they were written could have predicted. I don’t really see 1984 and Brave New World as similar to each other, but Fahrenheit 451 is an even further step away.
The fact that this book is set in a dystopian future is not obvious from the outset. There are minor differences to the world we know– multiple TV walls, a lack of speed limits, medical advances–but nothing that seems as overtly sinister as the surveillance or controlled breeding of 1984 and Brave New World, respectively. The eerie wrongness of this world is revealed slowly, in small things that could so conceivably happen in reality, until there are so many small things that this world is obviously so utterly twisted and manipulated and controlled.
The book burning is the focus of the book, but not really what the book is about. Despite Montag’s attempts to save books and to get people to read and think for themselves again, a lot of books are harmed during the narrative of this story. And each one hurt me. Fictional books, in a fictional story, but still, the fact that they were so precious and rare in this world made each one’s loss hit hard. Most of the time we didn’t even know what books were being burnt, but it didn’t matter. Any book in a world where books are illegal is a special thing.
I was very keen to see what happened at the end of this book. Despite Montag’s plans, nothing went accordingly. The last 90 pages or so were nonstop, and at no point could i have guessed what was going to happen. Was it going to end happily? Hopefully? Negatively? Ambiguously? I won’t spoil it, but i will say the ending also does not correlate with the other dystopias this book is so often compared to.
My favourite parts of this book were the speeches. Namely, the speeches by Beatty, the Fire Chief of book burning and Montag’s boss, and Faber, the old man who shamefully hides himself and his love of books away, afraid to do anything about the current regime. Beatty’s speeches are anti-books and anti-freedom, but i think i loved them because–to me–they were so unconvincing. For more than half the book i wondered if Beatty was secretly a freethinker and more intelligent that he let on, but working for what he had been convinced was the “greater good” like Mustapha Mond in Brave New World. Faber was just so likeable to me. His passion was clear, even if his fear was stronger, and his love of intellect and books was not worth risking his life.
There are so many things going on in this book. I haven’t even mentioned Clarisse, Mildred, the hound or the war. Just like the gradual reveal of a world not quite right, the message of this book is scattered through the little details of the story. It was quite a light read, really, but one i know would–and will–stand up through re-reads in future.
This is the fifth book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.