Friday, 2 July 2010
Brave New World
Set in the distant future 'Brave New World' paints a bleak imagining of a society
where everything you could ever want or need is provided for you. But at a price...
In this society no-one is born, not in the traditional sense anyway, there are no families, no mothers or fathers. Every person is grown in a factory test tube and genetically modified to fit the position put aside for them in the society. The 'Epsilons' are the people at the bottom; deliberately modified before and after 'birth' to be mindless morons they carry out the menial, dirty jobs that no-one wants to do. At the top of the pile are the 'Alphas' high in intelligence and designed to carry out the higher roles in society; government, literature, entertainment etc.
Citizens within the society are taught that life is all about pleasure. They work without complaint to keep the society going and in return are given a powerful recreational drug called 'Soma' and are encouraged to have sex with whomever they want. A common saying in the society is 'everyone belongs to everyone' and saying 'No' to a sexual advance, even from a relative stranger, was frowned upon. There is no love, no marriage, no commitment at all except to be 'happy'
Of course there are seeds of decent in this society. The Main protagonist is Bernard; an Alpha male who is decidedly unhappy with his life and strives for something more. He travels to one of the few 'Savage Reserves' where humans live in enclosures surrounded by electrified fences leading lives much like our own; they marry, have children, worship God and work in their own chosen professions.
Huxley has very cleverly turned the belief systems of conventional society on their head. Whatever our society frowns upon (drugs, promiscuous sex, slavery etc.) is encouraged in the new society. I say slavery because none of these citizens have free choice, even the Alpha's are just following what they were conditioned from birth to do. No-one in the society truly has free choice.
Considering this story was written in 1931 I was very impressed by Huxley's imagination. The story has aged well and is still shocking even today. Unfortunately I feel Huxley failed to reach the full potential in this book. Ultimately the experience was spoilt for me by the fundamentally stupid and unlikeable characters.
The book began dreadfully slowly. For the first 40-50 pages it bored the life out of me but I persisted and after page 50 it began to warm up. There is a certain amount of humour but I wouldn't say it was a 'funny' book in fact it gave me the creeps more often than it made me laugh.
Bernard is an anti-hero. I found him to be a whining, irritating, cowardly hypocrite who spends the entire first half of the book moaning about how he wishes to escape from the society he claims he hates so much and trying to get into the knickers of the main female protagonist, herself mindless and boring. Then Bernard spends the latter half of the story trying to ingratiate himself into the highest echelons of the society by arse-kissing, exploiting and backstabbing others. He is smug, crafty, patronising and arrogant and I can quite confidently say I hate him (as much as it is possible to hate a fictional character!)
The only person in the story I liked was John but even he seemed to lose the plot by the end of the book and himself became somewhat of a foolish annoyance.
The book undoubtedly forces the reader to have a good long think about our own society and our concepts of right and wrong but is ultimately let down by the poor characters.
Final verdict 2/5