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

By Chris


  1. I've been looking forward to reading Brave New World for quite some time, so I'm somewhat sad that you didn't like it. I probably will still read it at some point, but perhaps now I won't have unreasonable expectations of Huxley. Great review!

  2. I wonder if we're meant to like Bernard or if his characterization isn't part of the commentary on what happens when you only live from pleasure? I haven't read this yet so I probably dont' know what I'm talking about. lol. It's hard to enjoy a read if you can't get into the main character. Thanks for the review!

  3. I haven't read this one though I do enjoy dystopian fiction. I'm sorry you didn't like it that much. Have you tried John Wyndham?

  4. Another British blogger! I've just discovered your lovely blog and have added you to my blogroll!

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  6. @ Zara: I hope you do read it, as I said in the review the book definately had its positive points, Huxleys ideas are quite spectacular but I didn't like his character development skills!

    @ Chelle: You make an interesting point and you may well be right however there are many other characters who have the same background as Bernard but aren't the same as him. The best way to describe him is as a 'misfit' he doesn't seem to fit anywhere in the story, not in the modern society and not in the savage reservation, there is no place for him which is sad...but he's so intensely unlikeable that I don't feel that sorry for him! lol

    @ Mrs B: If you like dystopian fiction this would be a good read, I don't really like that genre which may explain why this book failed to impress overall. I have to admit I have never heard of John Wyndham, which of his books would you recommend?

  7. I've heard several people say the beginning bored them, but I loved the beginning! It lost its momentum for me later on and then picked it up again at the end, but I found the world so fascinating, I loved having it revealed at the beginning. These days authors hang onto the mechanics like it's some kind of secret, doling it out piecemeal.

    I agree with you on Bernard. He's a weird one. None of the characters were particularly likeable, it's true. I didn't find the book as satisfying as its precursor, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which inspired this book and 1984.

  8. p.s. John Wyndham is excellent - his most famous books are The Day of the Triffids (giant plants take over the world and the people are blind - chilling!) and The Chrysalids.

  9. I agree with you completely. This version of the future is very interesting and well described. But the characters are all unlikeable and, ultimately, boring.

  10. @ Shannon: I guess its swings and roundabouts, I can see why he wanted to explain the processes of how they develop embryos etc but I did find it a little over the top especially right at the beginning. I have heard of 'The Day of the Triffids' but never read it although I have heard it was groundbreaking

    @ Kim: Glad you agree and its such a shame, if the character development in the story had been better I'm sure I would have loved it as it is full of such great ideas

  11. I have totally bypassed Brave New World in high school, consider how widely it was taught. I have a copy right here on my nightstand and am going to start reading. No love and commitment in a society? How can there be love? I have been warned that this a chilling tale but it makes us think about our society now.