Saturday 17 August 2013

Club Classics Spin #2: Fahrenheit 451 Review

You may remember in May I pledged to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as part of the Classics Spin #2 in May. (Six was the magic number picked by the Classics team). I can't believe it's taken so long for me to post my review, especially as I finished the slim book and wrote a review in a notebook in May. Honestly.

Here is the book, borrowed from the school library. For ages I thought it was a depiction of a horse. What I thought was its long, golden mane is fire.

A nice message waiting for me as I opened the book made me smile:

Goodreads synopsis: Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires ...
The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning ... along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames ... never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think ... and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do!

A strange story that left me feeling uncomfortable. Uneasy. Although I did enjoy Bradbury's succinct, poetic writing style.

Bradbury depicts a horrible world that is much too fast and devoid of culture for my liking. Cars that travel so fast along the highway no one dares to cross the road.  Billboards 200m long so speeding motorists don't miss their messages. A world where books are banned and Shakespeare plays are adapted to 5 minute long TV shows. Firemen start fires. Hoses pump out kerosene. Their job: to put out libraries. No one is allowed to think, no free thinkers in this world. Everything goes so fast you don't have time to think, your mind is numb thanks to the constant stream of media stimulation wherever you go. A world where floor-to-ceiling TV panels are installed on each wall in your living room and they are constantly on. The actors on the screen aren't actors, they are your 'family', programmed to 'talk' to you and like a good brainwashed citizen you buy into that. A world where Phil Mitchell is your actual uncle. Nice. At night you drift off to sleep whilst listening to radio via seashells placed in your ears. No peace and quiet. People find they no longer remember  anything of importance and are unaware of what is going on in the world. Anniversaries are forgotten and atomic wars are waged in the space of 5 minutes (against who no one knows).

It fried my brain.

Anyone caught displaying signs of free thinking or engaging in their surrounding, i.e. taking walks in nature, are sent to a shrink. Anyone caught reading or hoarding books receive a menacing visit from the Fire Department...

"A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...who knows who might be the target of the well read man."

I will not forget the mechanical hound or the image of Captain Beatty at the wheel of the Salamander that brought to mind comic book villains. I kept thinking how well the book would work as a graphic novel.

Imagine a world without stories. Culture sustains us, feeds the soul. Take it away and you are left with unhappy, empty, suicidal people. Such is Bradbury's world. I feel depression setting in as I recall reading the book. It reminds me of how culture brought moments of pleasure to prisoners in the ghetto concentration camps. It is a necessity in life, not a luxury. I kept waiting for Bradbury's world to crash and burn and start over at a slower, more natural pace.

First published in Great Britain in 1954, elements of Fahrenheit 451 and its dystopian future to our world today. Except cigarette smoking - there'd be none of that in society...except to start a fire.

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