This is about a utopia gone wrong, where science has been twisted to an absurd extreme in an attempt to kMore reviews can be found on my book blog. ---
This is about a utopia gone wrong, where science has been twisted to an absurd extreme in an attempt to keep society happy. What makes this novel particularly interesting is how it all makes a sort of perverse sense. The obvious comparison when discussing this book is Nineteen Eighty-Four, both being dystopian futures with a brainwashed populace, and this is like the wacky uncle to that novel. It's older, doesn't take itself as seriously, but is clearly in the same family.
How do you keep a society happy? Firstly, each citizen must be content in their lives. The solution here is to brainwash them from birth. Each person is born, or 'decanted', in a lab and is conditioned through sleep-learning to love the caste to which they're assigned (denoted with the Greek alphabet - alpha through epsilon). The benefits of their social class, and the drawbacks of the other classes, are repeated to them constantly in their youth to stop them from wanting to be anything else. They love their place in society, and couldn't change it even if they desired. This removes the need to have greater ambitions in one's life and therefore avoids failure in those ambitions. You do what you're assigned to do, you enjoy that, and you spend your free time taking drug-induced vacations and having sex with anyone and everyone. The idea is to keep everyone content in a shallow and carefree existence.
In order to have control of each citizen from birth, no births outside of the labs can occur. To prevent this, not only are they citizens kept sterile, but they are trained to view motherhood and natural birth as vulgar.
And home was as squalid psychically as physically. Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children (her children) ... brooded over them like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, "My baby, my baby," over and over again. "My baby, and oh, oh, at my breast, the little hands, the hunger, and that unspeakable agonizing pleasure! Till at last my baby sleeps, my baby sleeps with a bubble of white milk at the corner of his mouth. My little baby sleeps..."
About halfway through the story, we're introduced to a man born outside of this society, from a natural birth, and he acts as our eyes to view this perverse world. He is seen, from the society's point of view, as a savage. He wasn't brought up with their brainwashing, instead learning a lot of his life's lessons from his collected works of William Shakespeare. They are fascinated with him, but he becomes increasingly agitated by the end of the novel, when it becomes clear that he has been conditioned in his own way.
There's a scene where the two worlds finally come to a head. 'The savage' completely loses it when a woman tries to lure him to bed, and it results in him calling her a whore and an impudent strumpet (an insult from the bard) and trying to hit her. Up until this point, the label of savage seemed almost funny, as he's clearly the reader's representative in this bizarre future, but then the lines began to blur. He begins isolating himself, whipping his back for what he believes are his sins, and he really does start to live up to his nickname. In many ways, I found the him to be as unrelatable as the brainwashed citizens.
This apparently started as a satire on the utopian future societies imagined by H.G. Wells. Huxley wanted to take those utopias and present a frightening alternative, and it eventually grew into a more substantial statement on the state of, at the time, current society. No where is Huxley's original intent of parody more clear than in the unforgettable, though you may try, orgy scene, in which a group of people, mesmerized with childish delight, chant a hilariously simple verse before getting down. This is their religion in a way, meant to give a sense of community and provide a release of human desires in a controlled way.
Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun, Kiss the girls and make them One. Boys at one with girls at peace; Orgy-porgy gives release.
Michael York's narration was fantastic. I'm always amazed at narrators who can switch between so many accents, although it did seem strange to me that he choose different regional English accents for different characters. If everyone's grown in a lab, part of a group of clones essentially, then they would probably all have basically the same accent. I felt like the point of it was that, in a world this strict, human beings were expected to have no individuality. Henry Ford is their savior, and they are products of the assembly line. This narration didn't seem to jive with that idea. Maybe this was explained in the text and I missed it, but it struck me as a bit odd. Apart from that, which may just be my misunderstanding, he did an exceptional job.
I had a few false starts with this novel, as I just couldn't seem to get into it, but I enjoyed myself once it finally clicked. It's such a thought-provoking world he's come up with, and it still feels incredibly relevant for today. Maybe even more so than when it was written, with our advanced technology, consumerism and obsession with anti-aging. I wouldn't say I loved it, but I liked it enough that I'll be seeking out his other novels eventually....more
This is the story of a young teen Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia, the housekeeper's son Robbie TMore reviews can be found on my book blog. ---
This is the story of a young teen Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia, the housekeeper's son Robbie Turner, and how the actions of one day changed the rest of their lives.
This is a bit of a hard one to summarize without giving away important plot points. He does some very interesting things with plot structure in this, and a lot of the suspense in the novel is waiting to see what happens and how it plays out. The main crime is telegraphed quite far in advance, but exactly what happens and what the repercussions will be is what's really interesting.
The novel begins on the Tallis family estate in the summer of 1934. Nearly everyone in the family is home, or arriving shortly, and they're to all have dinner together that night. The first third of the novel is quite slow, as we're introduced to the characters and the scene is set, but I was still really enjoying his writing. I knew a horrible thing was about to happen that night, and while I obviously wouldn't wish that upon anyone, I did find myself thinking 'okay, let's get on with it already', which felt a little wrong.
In the rest of the book, time keeps jumping ahead to show what has happened to those involved. I often find myself feeling very disconnected and uninterested when time shifts like that in a novel, but again he managed to keep my interest. Whenever I felt like I knew where the story was going, I was always left surprised. McEwan does a great job of toying with your emotions in this, especially when it comes to how you feel about each character. You love them, you hate them, you like them again - he manages to do what George R.R. Martin does so well, but in a single four-hundred page novel.
(view spoiler)[The ending of this novel really messes with your mind a bit. It's revealed that what you just read was actually written by Briony, and that events may have played out a bit differently than she wrote, that Cecilia and Robbie never met again.
At first I felt a bit cheated by this. It struck me as a little 'and then I woke up, and it was all a dream' for my liking, but then it did grow on me. Not everything has a happy ending, and actions have life-long consequences, and the fact that she felt compelled to rewrite history only highlighted her remorse.
I really enjoyed this. The subject matter is pretty heavy, and it was written in a way that could have easily turned hacky in another author's hands, but it's handled very well here. This won the 2001 Man Booker Prize, and while I don't normally keep up with literary prizes, I remember it being mentioned in the literature course I was taking in university at the time. I've had it filed away in the back of my mind to read since. It only took me a decade and a half, not bad....more
This is the last novel Graham Greene wrote before his death in 1991. I've only read one of his others befMore reviews can be found on my book blog. ---
This is the last novel Graham Greene wrote before his death in 1991. I've only read one of his others before, the audiobook of The End of the Affair narrated by Colin Firth, which was fantastic, and this is an incredibly different book.
The End of the Affair felt real. Flawed characters, and a plot that's surprising but, on reflection, makes sense. This novel was absurd in comparison, and I spent the first half in a state of confusion. The novel opens with a young boy, Victor, at school being picked up by a man he's never before met, the title's Captain, after 'being won' in a game of backgammon. After the grim plot of the Affair, I was very worried for this kid's well-being. In the first few pages, Greene manages to raise half a dozen questions that he spends the rest of the novel answering.
The first part of this story is written from the view of the child a decade later in his life. With the help of old journals he used to keep, he recounts his time with the Captain and his companion Liza, whose house Victor grew up in after being taken from school that day. It was a very strange and confused life as he adjusted to living with a shut-in whom he never really seemed to bond with at all. The Captain would drop in every now and then after mysterious periods away. Liza and Victor never knew his real name or occupation, but he would send them money to live on. In the second half of the book, Victor continues writing in his journal as he travels to Panama to visit the Captain and learn who he really is.
They are always saying God loves us. If that's love I'd rather have a bit of kindness.
All of the characters in this are unlikable, their personalities are stilted, and their actions are at times incomprehensible, but the whole thing has a slight whimsy that makes it work. The way the characters interact often feels a bit like a Wes Anderson movie - emotionally monotone in a way that allows us to believe the ridiculous world in which they exist. Some of the characters in this seem desperate for affection and can't bring themselves to acknowledge those feelings and some seem genuinely indifferent. It's makes it a bit difficult to relate to any of them, but I was driven on out of curiosity. Those unanswered questions that were nagging from the opening of the novel managed to keep my interest right to the end.
I was thinking of this as a classic when I picked it up, and I was surprised to see the publication date as 1988. I think of Graham Greene as a writer from the 40s or 50s, but it looks like he has published works spanning from the late 20s to the early 90s, which is amazing. I guess the idea of what constitutes a classic changes from person to person. If a writer has work that is considered 'classic', is everything he or she wrote then considered a classic? I often think so, but then cases like this do confuse things somewhat. I'll leave it off my Classics Club list for now, I think, even if it does have a Penguin Classics edition, but I might revisit.
I did really enjoy this. The plot is interesting, if a little unsatisfying, but his writing is fantastic. He handles Victor looking back through his journals very well. I think this is considered one of his lesser novels, which makes me excited to read on through his bibliography....more
This is Bill Bryson's Australian travelogue, called Down Under outside of Canada and the US, and it detaiMore reviews can be found on my book blog. ---
This is Bill Bryson's Australian travelogue, called Down Under outside of Canada and the US, and it details two back-to-back trips to the country. He begins by travelling across Australia by train, from Sydney to Perth, and then recounts his time in the southeastern cities of the country. He then returns with a friend of his to visit the Great Barrier Reef, Alice Springs in the north and then down to Uluru, which I guess is a very impressive rock.
The people are immensely likable— cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn't get much better than this.
I loved this. Apart from the small journal he kept for his African charity trip to Kenya, my only previous experience with him was his novel Notes from a Small Island, which I read before starting this blog (the dark years). I'd forgotten how funny he his. He has a kind of quiet humour, self-deprecating with a keen eye for pointing out the ridiculous without harping on it too much. He also travels the way I like to travel, which is fairly casual without much on the schedule - arrive in a city, walk around all day, spend some time in a museum, and eat and drink too much. He isn't spending a week trying to survive in the desert or travelling from personal tour to personal tour with a film crew in tow. He's just sightseeing, which is actually a refreshing read.
I have to admit, I've never really found Australia particularly exciting. I mean, the deadly critters and the expansive outback and all of the adventure tourism activities are exciting to me in an abstract sense, but as far as feeling personally excited to visit, it's just never really captured my imagination. When I dreamed of travel as a kid, it was always for more exotic locales. Places where they served food I'd never come across and spoke a language I didn't know. Australia fell into the same category as the rest of Canada for me, in that I'd love to see it at some point but it's not something I sit up at night thinking about. This book has changed that view, though, somewhat. He has an unbridled enthusiasm for the country, and it's hard not to have some of that rub off on you. This is probably good, because my girlfriend is desperate to get me to go.
I have no idea how he researched this book. He comes up with so many bizarre stories and interesting facts, and he'll just drop those here and there nonchalantly throughout the narrative, as if it's something off the top of his head. He clearly did a lot of reading for this book, and I feel like it would be very tempting to load it up with very detailed history and long-winded stories just to justify the research, but he has great self-restraint. It seems like some of the books he read about Australia must have only become one or two paragraphs in this book. It was so full of these stories and facts that it could have turned overwhelming, but instead it was a light and fun read, and it doesn't feel like knowledge was sacrificed to accommodate that. He very naturally weaves the information into his travels.
He spends time describing how awful the aboriginal people were treated throughout history after the arrival of the Europeans, but I would have enjoyed a more thorough look at how attitudes have changed, or not, more recently, as well as some more information on their actual culture. While it is a bit disappointing, I do understand it. This is a personal travelogue of two relatively short trips, not a documentary, and he's just describing what he experienced. Shoehorning in more information, without having actually experienced any of that culture himself, could have come across as quite superficial, so it's probably for the best.
I realized part way through this that I now have to read everything he's ever written, so I'll certainly be reading more from him next year....more