Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week REVIEW: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

First published: 1932. Click on the cover to buy from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller..

To kick off the 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week, I'm going to review one of the most-banned books of the last decade, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Brave New World
, first published in 1932, depicts a future world in which people are created in a lab and "decanted" instead of born from mothers and conditioned to willingly fulfill whatever role in society they have been assigned, from the smart, handsome Alphas who make up the ruling class to the Epsilon "semi-morons" at the bottom. It's also the story of Bernard Marx, an Alpha who doesn't quite fit in; John, a man from outside the society who absolutely doesn't fit in, and the woman they both love, Beta-class Lenina, who wants nothing but to fit in.

Brave New World has been a classic for many years- as I chose it for this year's BBW read I was actually wondering how I'd managed to get this far without reading it. Like, why didn't they teach this in high school? And why is it on the Top 100 Banned Books of 1990-2000 list anyway? Well it turns out there is one answer to both of those questions, I think- the pervasive, unorthodox and nonchalant sexual content. And these kinds of novels- dystopian future societies- usually encourage things like subversion and disobedience towards authority. And we can't be teaching the kiddies stuff like that.

So what did I think? Well I thought the writing was amazing- fresh, lively and challenging. At least judging by this book Huxley was a master craftsman. It was also very compelling and gripping and kept me reading.

But then I also thought it was a little bit of a muddle. The book starts out with a love triangle- Bernard, Lenina and character named Henry Foster- and then switches gears into a culture-clash story about what happens when this man from outside comes into the "brave new world" and has to adapt. And we see the effect this all has on Bernard, which wasn't exactly what I expected. Which I think is a good thing, that Huxley didn't make it too predictable, but it also didn't quite gel for me. None of the characters were developed all that well, come to think of it- what kept me going was more the drama of the situation, wondering how it would play out, if there would be some dismal 1984-esque ending or if there was any possibility of something more optimistic, something the characters had to look forward to. And Huxley's beautiful writing. But I don't know. Even the ending was something of a muddle. I probably just need to re-read it but I have to admit I'm not sure what happened at all. I would recommend it as one of those culturally-important type of books but I have to admit overall I was a little let down.

Oh and one last thing. Speaking of Orwell and 1984, the P.S. edition pictured above includes some interesting features, including a letter Huxley wrote to Orwell comparing their two respective outlooks on the future as seen through their novels. If you've read both books it's worth a look.