Madeleine's Reviews > Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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Jul 11, 12

bookshelves: head-in-the-clouds-nose-in-a-book, our-libeary, 2012, maybe-it-s-time-to-live
Read from June 30 to July 03, 2012

Herein lies the eternal conflict of the individual who derives just as much enjoyment from reading books as she does writing about them: One interest always has a way of interfering with the other. Sometimes I have a lot to say about a book but don't quite know how to go about it so I wait for a solution that may or may not be chanced upon; sometimes I just want to dive right into the next novel. Both leave me with a queue of unreviewed books (like this one almost was), and I know that I can't be the only one in a gaggle of languid overachievers who feels like not bothering to write even a few sentences about a book is a show of unconscionable laziness, even if those half-hearted efforts are more like a snapshot of life at the time of the reading than a literary critique proper.

Somehow, "Brave New World" is one of those classics that was never forced down my throat, nor did I know much about the plot itself. Having read "The Doors of Perception" and "Heaven and Hell" (coupled with a sporadically firing up but always present intention of getting around to "The Perennial Philosophy" for its gnostic relevance) gave me an idea of what Huxley's more academic interests were, so I figured some of that had to leak into BNW. All I knew about this widely championed example of required reading for humanity is that it might include people tripping their faces off while riding bikes all in the name of research (spoiler alert: soma isn't anything like LSD).

I enjoyed this more without an English teacher stripping it of all its vitality but Present Me has more notches in her bookish bedpost than High School Me did, so certain snags in the narrative were much more irksome than they would have been more than 10 years ago. Like, a higher-up reminiscing for pages about the lady friend who got lost in the savage madness of New Mexico in response to an underling's request to visit that same untamed land? Gosh, I can't imagine that'll be significant later on. And John the Savage being the only one who can readily quote Shakespeare, whose writings will always be symbolic of literature's high-water mark? My affinity for John forgave the obvious trouncing of what could have been a powerfully subtle implication (that is, the savage is the only truly civilized person in the book) for the sake of making sure the reader really, really gets the point.

Huxley's vision of dystopia might have scared the crap out of a 1930s audience, but, honestly, the fact that science is such a dominant presence without the trappings of technologies used for the idle occupation of the self-absorbed masses didn't sound that bad to me. Though the deification of screamingly anti-Semitic Henry Ford should be doubleplusungood enough to make me reconsider that stance, I suppose.
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Reading Progress

06/30/2012 page 66
23.0%
07/03/2012 page 260
90.0% "I ALMOST passed up an opportunity to leave work early so I could finish this."
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Moira (last edited Jul 11, 2012 12:07PM) (new) - added it

Moira Russell This is one of those books that shouldn't work but somehow does - which may be typical of Huxley; I felt the same way about Point Counter Point and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (haven't yet read Crome Yellow or Island, tho). His novels are basically tracts without real characterization or thematic depth (people who accuse Orwell of that make me cross; usually they haven't read Huxley) but somehow they're gripping and even moving at points.

I don't think it's so much a predictive dystopia - Orwell is much more for that - but thematically a lot of it rings true. The deification of Ford - that was surely going on in the fifties and sixties, and has been replaced now with the superhuman status of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or even Mark wossname. People laugh at the idea of the "feelies" (which admittedly is pretty bad) but isn't that what a lot of the panting excitement over VR, especially as applied to video games, is about? And soma isn't so much an actual state-sponsored drug, as the drug most pop culture has become - "reality" shows on TV, Star Wars prequels at the multiplex, 50 Shades and its knockoffs, &c. It's definitely an "eat this shit and you'll be Americanized" book.

I identified a lot with John the Noble Savage, too. He's truly the only likeable character in the book - Bernard is just awful, and Lenina makes me cringe. Huxley was also really good at creepy endings ("north, north-east, east....").


Madeleine You know what sucks about GRing at work? That sometimes I have to do actual work.

I really love your comments and the insight you bring to the table with them. I'm coming back to this one as soon as I can offer it the time and attention it deserves.


message 3: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Aww, no worries! Just as long as it's fun.


message 4: by Madeleine (last edited Jul 12, 2012 09:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Madeleine Oh, nerding out with smart people is ALWAYS fun! Much, MUCH more so than the joyous world of financial proofreading, that's for sure.

His novels are basically tracts without real characterization or thematic depth (people who accuse Orwell of that make me cross; usually they haven't read Huxley) but somehow they're gripping and even moving at points.
Who's more cross: You or Mr. Flibble?

This is a perfect summation, at least based on the lone fictional piece of his I've read. It works here because it's simply not realistic for a bunch of clones to have discernible personalities. Besides, I always feel like when it's done properly, only assigning a few specific traits to characters allows for a more personalized reading, as the reader is able to superimpose his/her own experiences with similar people onto the fictional folks of the novel, which elicits a more genuine reaction when Shit Goes Down.

I don't think it's so much a predictive dystopia - Orwell is much more for that - but thematically a lot of it rings true.
Oh goodness, yes. I felt that it was a hyperbolic cautionary tale more than anything else. How scary must the technological advances of Huxley's time been to the people who were comfortable with a manual world and wary of the oncoming mechanical revolution? Conversely, how exciting was it for the more inquisitive minds of the time to have a front-row seat to the dawn of a new era? There's a lot of potential for mixed feelings.

I think the book benefited greatly from being written when it was. Some forward-looking dystopic novels get so dated so quickly because they're basing future innovations on the primitive now and not considering how rapidly technology (and society's dependence upon/perversion of it) can evolve. The fact that BNW didn't get bogged down with too many details about how the science itself came to be combined with Huxley's own scientifically inquisitive nature helped keep the story fresh.

The deification of Ford - that was surely going on in the fifties and sixties, and has been replaced now with the superhuman status of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or even Mark wossname.
I have issues with perpetuating the myth when the man wasn't all that admirable. Sure, the Model-T was a game-changer and an impressive accomplishment, but does that forgive the human failings of the man? Glossing over the ugly parts of reality seemed to be a recurring theme (blindly hailing Ford on the merit of his inventions, escaping hard truths via soma "holidays," encouraging an infantile immediate-gratification approach to life) in the book, and that was a thing that very much appealed to me. Ours is such a fad-driven culture that we're replacing one false idol with another all the time without considering the repercussions.

People laugh at the idea of the "feelies" (which admittedly is pretty bad) but isn't that what a lot of the panting excitement over VR, especially as applied to video games, is about?
This, yes! I read years and years ago about how two scientists in completely different parts of the world traded a handshake of sorts through some sort of simulation; my fuzzy recall does not do justice to how impressive it was (and still is) to me. I kept thinking about it every time the feelies were mentioned. The building blocks are in place for an immersive, interactive VR experience.

And soma isn't so much an actual state-sponsored drug, as the drug most pop culture has become - "reality" shows on TV, Star Wars prequels at the multiplex, 50 Shades and its knockoffs, &c. It's definitely an "eat this shit and you'll be Americanized" book.
You know, that parallel didn't even dawn on me. It certainly serves as a well-fitting allegory for the modern-day opiate of the masses.

I meant to read the article before beginning this comment but clearly couldn't manage that. I'll be running to it as soon as I finish up this wordy response.

I identified a lot with John the Noble Savage, too. He's truly the only likeable character in the book - Bernard is just awful, and Lenina makes me cringe.
Yes!! I tend to identify with the outsiders, and John not fitting into either society he was thrust into made him the perfect lens to see all the failings of life in 632 A.F. I like to think that he disrupted the World State's blissfully stable routine enough to be the impetus for its downfall.

I hated Linda. I know I should have pitied her because she was just as unlucky as John, she couldn't help what she was conditioned to be, and it must have been so difficult to be returned to the home she never thought she'd see again, but her weakness just pissed me off. Lenina bothered me, too. For lots of reasons. The whole failed seduction between her and John was so uncomfortable and frustrating, which I guess is a testament to Huxley's writing chops because I certainly felt those characters' pains. I kind of liked that Mond recognized the system's bullshit but his "I'm just doing my job" approach to things was such a shameful surrender that sounded too much like how former SS soldiers would justify their involvement in one of modern history's darkest hours. The rest of the cast could bite me and like it.

Huxley was also really good at creepy endings ("north, north-east, east....").
There was no other way to end the book than how Huxley did. It was perfect in tone, in action, in implication. This book made me understand your reluctance to assign star ratings because there's no catch-all way of relaying how I felt about this book.


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