Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Happiness is a ... harder master ... than truth." I love Mustapha Mond. In giving him some of the best lines in 'Brave New World,' Aldous Huxley betrays his bias: He believes, perhaps even hopes, that his well-constructed vision of an orderly, happily infantile, benevolently controlled future society might some day come to pass.
Well, in many respects it has. (I speak largely of the United States here - the country that Huxley had in mind as he wrote.) Viral internet memes, if not the reality-numbing internet itself, replace his hypnopaedia. Take your pick of countless prescription and illicit psychoactive drugs, adding up to his 'soma'. The decline of the nuclear family and the proliferation of promiscuity and casual sex, though lately dampened somewhat by HIV/AIDS, came into full flower with the introduction of the birth control pill in 1961. Despite an overtly democratic government, increasingly sophisticated Corporate tyranny and its relentless hypnopaedic political propaganda/lobbying have gradually built an economic caste system not unlike that of Huxley's Alpha-to-Epsilon structure. Consumerism is rampant. What sport/leisure activity these days does not adhere to Huxley's mandate that it require the purchase of vast amounts of ever-more-specialized and expensive equipment?
When a book proves to be this prescient over such a long time span, it deserves its status as one of the classics. I first read BNW as a high-school student, and thought myself a kindred spirit of Huxley. I tried to emulate his somewhat pretentious poetic style in my own poetry. But when I recently re-read the book, nearly fifty years on, I found myself sometimes getting annoyed at the 'full-of-himself' passages. His poetic excess sometimes gets in the way of his story telling. His worship of Shakespeare, though understandable, sometimes comes across as blatant evangelism. And sometimes he eschews interactive dialogue in favor of two-plus-page-long single-paragraph monologues.
What I love most about Brave New World is that Huxley manages, with such seeming ease and naturalness, to populate the pages with a whole slew (and slough) of diverse, richly painted characters. From the perpetually conflicted Bernard Marx to the intriguingly conformist Lenina Crowne, who manages to be subtly but pointedly shaken by the Savage's denial of her instant gratification, right down to the distinctive traits of minor characters like the overly hairy but ever pleasantly equanimous Benito Hoover, Huxley's skills at characterization shine. I have only one small quibble: where are the Alpha-plus females?
I have not bothered to present an outline of the story since there have already been thousands written. Instead, I'll finish with a quote spoken by the eminently capable Helmholtz Watson after being subverted by his contact with the Savage: "You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases." Happiness - true, mature happiness - is indeed a complex nut to crack.
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