‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle‘The Glass Castle’ is a fascinating memoir. It tells the story of Jeannette Walls’ incredible childhood growing up living a nomadic existence that ensures the children have a unique experience of the world. What is normal to the Walls children – existing surrounded by stray animals, doing the ‘skedaddle’ at a moment’s notice when things get tough, watching their father drink himself into a frenzy – is obviously shocking to the reader. Jeannette narrates the details of her life from early childhood to adulthood in both moving and harrowing detail.

Nowadays such memoirs are perhaps twoapenny so what makes ‘The Glass Castle’ so engaging and, indeed, memorable enough to feature on the Goodreads 100 top novels to read? Well, firstly there are the characters themselves. We should hate Rex Walls: he is an alcoholic whose addiction corrodes his family; he is, at best, a neglectful husband and father and, at worst, an abusive one; he is utterly self-absorbed choosing his addiction over the needs of his family repeatedly; he is utterly delusional. However, perhaps as a result of the narrator’s continued affection for him, we do not see him solely in this light: he is charismatic; spectacularly intelligent; inspires his children imaginatively and creatively; and at times is immensely loving and thoughtful. It is thus Walls’ ability to present the complexity of his character rather than demonising him that makes her memoir so compelling.

It would also have been very easy to present herself as a victim and bewail the tragedy of her impoverished early life. However, Walls does not do this. She focuses as much on the joy, the humour and the quirkiness of her family as she does on their poverty. Although it is evident from the brief details of the children’s later lives that they do not escape unscathed, it is also true that this tragic, nomadic existence produces some impressive people.

From a personal point of view, it also provided an insight into life in very backwards areas of America – the outskirts of the desert, the mining town of Welch and so on. I would like to think that such a family as the Walls would never have been allowed to continue in England where we have, especially in schools today, such a strong responsibility for child welfare and certainly students who came to school without food or adequate clothing would have been helped in some way today. But we are talking about 1970s America, which feels in this book like a different planet altogether almost.

Of course there is part of me that I suppose questions the credibility of the narrative and how someone can have emerged from such a childhood so seemingly undamaged and lacking in bitterness. Although perhaps that is more a reflection of my attitude to life than the novel itself. There was also a great deal more I wanted to know – I wanted to know more about what happened next particularly for Maureen. I also wanted to know more about the mother and her land. SPOILER ALERT: one of the most shocking elements of the novel to my mind was that their mother allowed them to exist in such poverty and deprivation without lighting, heating or even basic food provision and yet all this time, she owned land worth millions, which she neither mentioned to them or even contemplated selling so that they could live in basic comfort. In some ways, this was the greatest betrayal to my mind. Whist she may have chosen to live with an alcoholic and to opt for a bohemian existence living on the streets or with little beyond her artistic inspiration, this was not a choice she had a right to make for her children.

I have never read a novel quite like ‘The Glass Castle’. Walls’ deeply empathetic, engaging and traumatic account of a childhood that one can only hope few will experience is at once moving and inspiring. It is a novel about suffering and addiction, but also about love and survival and this is perhaps why it will remain so enduring popular.

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‘The Woman in Black: Angel of Death’ by Martyn Waites

The Woman in Black: Angel of DeathWho doesn’t love ‘The Woman in Black’ and by that I mean the superb novel by Susan Hill as opposed to the film that was not only incredibly slow and poorly acted by Daniel Radcliffe, but also changed the ending of the novel entirely thus destroying its atmosphere and impact. However, ‘The Woman in Black’ as a novel and indeed as a stage production, is superb. Hill, through her Victorian prose and subtle atmospheric detail chills the reader to the bone. So, when I saw the sequel, I thought I would give it a go. I have two words for you: UTTER TRITE!

  1. 1. There was no attempt to even echo Hill’s prose style. Instead, the narrative was dominated by ineffectual dialogue and short, clipped sentences that had nothing in common with the winding prose of Hill’s original that drew us into the dark Victorian world of her novel.
  2. 2. For all the author’s claims in his afterword/ aftermath that he was not just riding on the coattails of a better author, this is exactly what he has attempted to do and thus suckered poor fools like me into buying is second rate novel. The very fact that the front cover of this novel emblazons her title ‘The Woman in Black’ on it as opposed to his clichéd ‘Angel of Death’ is a clear example of this and a cheap and desperate marketing tactic. As a further example, those of you familiar with ‘The Woman in Black’ will be aware that one of the most haunting aspects of the novel are its sound effects. Arthur Kipps is alone in Eel Marsh House and the sounds of the house and moors are captured through onomatopoeic and poetic prose by Hill not least the eerie rocking chair that moves of its own accord. In this version, this was conveyed by something along the lines of ‘creak creak crack’ – a puerile attempt to create sound that I would have criticized my GCSE students for.
  3. It was pretty clear to me that this was a cash cow. It had been written to be a movie and then, only later, written as a book to make a few bucks. The problem with this is that, whilst it might work as a film and I could see that in some of the more ridiculously dramatic moments it could, it does not work as a novel particularly one that is supposed to be a sequel to Hill’s subtly haunting narrative.Woman in Black Angel of Death Film Trailer
  4. The story was really a bit stupid. For instance, why would evacuated children be moved to a location next to a dummy airfield that was intended to encourage bombing!?
  5. Rather than subtlety, Waites relies on hyperbole and overt drama. This is fine in some stories, but does not work here and actually defuses both tension and any sense of the haunting atmosphere he is trying to create
  6. The romance between Harry and Eve is a silly distraction

I could go on, but I can’t be bothered. However, what really annoyed me was the arrogance of his afterword. He justifies the decisions he has made by insisting that new authors have every right to reinvent another’s work (which is perfectly true and often proves fruitful as in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’). Yet he then goes on to compare this work to Hill’s own sequel to ‘Rebecca’ – ‘Mrs De Winter’. This is not only ludicrous, but utterly hubristic. Whilst Hill emulates Du Maurier’s style beautifully and does justice to her original narrative by creating a similarly haunting tale that blends well with ‘Rebecca’ and offers a thought-provoking and compelling sequel, Waites does quite the opposite. I only hope that this novel does not put people off from reading the original, which is far superior!

In short, this is really not worth the paper it is written on and is not only utterly forgettable, but an insult to Hill that it is even referred to in the same breath.

jerry

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‘Library of Souls’ by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #3)I have had ‘Library of Souls’ on pre-order for a good couple of months and read it as soon as it arrived. It was completely worth the wait and a fantastic end to an innovative and compelling trilogy.

The narrative picks up exactly where we left it in ‘Hollow City’, which, Mr Riggs, was a particularly cruel place to leave us all hanging for nearly a year. What is brilliant about this story, is that, whilst the characters remain familiar, Riggs takes us into a whole new dimension of Peculiardom as Emma, Addison and Jacob undertake their desperate and seemingly impossible mission to rescue their friends from the malevolent Caul and his horrendous plan to possess all peculiar souls. Following the trail of their stolen friends, the trio take a perilous river boat ride with Sharon to the hellish loop of Devil’s Acre and into the very heart of the Wight’s lair. However, how three lone warriors will manage to surmount the forces of the wights and their hollows and who they can truly trust makes the narrative as compelling as ever.

What made this concluding part of the trilogy so exciting was that whilst so many final parts are mere repetitions of what has gone before, this was not the case here. We do, of course, have the same wonderfully eerie photographs that visually capture the haunting nature of the peculiar world, but the narrative itself is notched up another level and whilst the story is more than ever focused on Emma and Jacob and his burgeoning powers, it also introduces us to a whole new aspect of Peculiardom. What I also loved was the manner in which Riggs draws so much and often brilliantly irreverently on Classical Literature and religious ideology. Devil’s Acre reminded me so much of Dickensian depictions of London in all its squalor, hardship and opium additions; there were also echoes of Dante’s Inferno in the central images of the Wight’s Lair whilst there was a clear sense that Riggs was also inspired by classic gothic literature – the mad scientist driven by ambition to self-destruction; human experimentation; the darkness of the human psyche. Yet at the same time, there were echoes from Greek mythology most obviously embodied in the figure of Sharon, but also in the echoes of Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld and the sense of the narrative structure as being a quest narrative; at the same time, there were echoes of fairytales – the Billy Goat’s Gruff most particularly (without revealing too much). Yet these were seamlessly interwoven and made to work together in a peculiar fashion that mirrored the visual and linguistic mix that has become the trilogy’s hallmark.

Whilst ‘Hollow City’ at times felt a little disjointed in the manner we were thrown from one loop to the next, this final instalment, with its focus on one narrative and primarily one place, is absolutely seamless, not least in its conclusion, which, although perhaps a little too neat, was certainly satisfying and I hope leaves some scope for further adventures.

A word should also be said about the coming film version, which I am incredibly excited about. Tim Burton is certainly the ideal director for the creation of this bizarre world whilst Jane Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay for ‘Stardust’ – Neil Gaiman’s fantasy and X-Men: First Class) is a great choice who should do justice to this wonderful text. Normally, I am reticent about any film versions of much loved books. However, given the visual nature of so much of these novels and the cinematic quality of Riggs’ prose, I think it is a series that lends itself brilliantly to film form and I have high hopes that it will not disappoint and potentially open up Riggs’ unique world to a whole new array of readers.

‘Library of Souls’ is not only a fitting conclusion to a fantastic trilogy, but a compelling adventure that sucks us into its dark jaws and spits us out excited, disturbed and only wanting more.

topcat

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‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot

6493208‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ is actually a triple narrative whereby three equally fascinating stories are seamlessly interwoven and narrated with both precision and passion. To be honest, this is not the kind of novel I would normally choose to read: I haven’t studied anything scientific for about twenty years (and then rather reluctantly) and I don’t usually enjoy non-fiction, which is all too often dry and overly factual in my view. However, this novel had received such rave reviews, that I thought I would give it a go. I am so glad I did.

In many ways, the first story concerns the manner in which Skloot first became interested in the story of Henrietta and her cells and then the Herculean nature of the task that she felt compelled to undertake in order to discover the truth behind the cells and the impact on Henrietta’s family, as well as the truth about her history. One of the most impressive things about this novel is the depth of research that Skloot had evidently undertaken. This novel was years in the making and so scrupulously researched that Skloot often found herself travelling miles across America, searching for obscure clues and placing herself in both physical and emotional peril in order to gain access to the truth. It can only be described as a labour of love and Skloot’s meticulous research has paid dividends whilst the passion she infuses into the work and evident enthusiasm for the subject matter makes even the more scientific passages incredibly engaging.

The second story arc is the narrative of the HeLa cells, which I am ashamed to say, I had never heard of before, (although amazingly, I would imagine that I am not alone in this). Essentially, during the forties and fifties, scientists were increasingly searching for a way of culturing and preserving human cells. Whilst experimentation could occur on animal test subjects, this increasingly proved unsatisfactory as they responded differently to human cells. However, human cells resolutely refused to survive in culture until the HeLa cells (this is perhaps less surprising given the lack of knowledge at this time about hygiene, bacteria and the way in which germs spread). HeLa cells were cancerous cells taken from Lacks’ cervix. Due to the nature of the cancer, these cells literally proved ‘immortal’ – they not only survived, but grew. Eventually, these were reproduced repeatedly and shipped to labs across the world for research. Whilst other cells have since been cultured, these were the first and amazingly remain the most dominant to be used in research. It is thanks to these cells that new cancer drugs have been developed, that the polio vaccine exists and goodness knows how many other cures that today we take for granted. It is an incredibly complex narrative that explores not only the medical developments that resulted from these cells, but also the ethical questions concerning cell ownership that have since arisen. Coming from a place of absolute ignorance, this was utterly fascinating from both an intellectual and personal perspective given the fact that these cells have literally impacted my life from the antibiotics I have taken to cure pneumonia to the polio vaccine. Moreover, having only recently visited the fascinating Old Operating Theatre in London where we attended a lecture on early surgical procedures, it was amazing to see the ways in which medical knowledge and science have evolved from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries.

The third story is the personal narrative of Henrietta and her family. Although I did feel there was an element of bias in the telling here given the way Henrietta is almost sanctified, it was no less an intriguing insight into a world, culture and era that has now passed away. Skloot traces Henrietta’s story from orphaned childhood growing up on tobacco plantation and marrying her philandering first cousin, through to the lives of her children and grandchildren and most notably the significant impact that her cells have on her children. These are uneducated individuals, who are not told that Henrietta’s cells are even taken or used and thus only discover their impact some twenty years or so after the fact. Yet this in turn breeds resentment, (whilst corporations have benefitted immensely from the cells, they cannot afford their own medical bills), and fear given their lack of understanding of what has become of their mother and the feeling that they have in some way been violated. It is a moving and intriguing insight into a world that is desperately impoverished and blighted by circumstances beyond their control.

In some regards there is also a fourth story that addresses the corrupt American medical system beginning in the 1900s when people of colour were used without their knowledge for experimentation or given free medical care only be infected with diseases such as syphilis so their doctors could judge the impact of certain drugs. However, this story is also traced to the present day and the medical world that is driven by profit rather than a desire to aid humanity. For me, this was in some ways one of the most interestingly ironic aspects: it is evident that people of colour are regarded as ‘second class citizens’ to the medical profession certainly in the 50s and yet ironically, it is the cells of a black woman, a fact that is effectively covered up for many years, that ultimately brings about the major scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century.

This is a brilliant, innovative novel that not only makes science accessible, but even more importantly, tells the story of Henrietta, silenced and hidden for so long and explores the immense impact of her cells at both a personal and worldwide level that really cannot be underestimated.

topcat

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‘Us’ by David Nicholls

UsI loved David Nicholls’ ‘One Day’ and so began ‘Us’ with great expectations. Sadly, I was disappointed. ‘Us’, which is ironically titled, tells the story of Douglas, a scientist whose wife, Connie, wakes one morning and announces that their marriage is over. Unfortunately, they have booked a monumental tour of Europe in the classical style for themselves and their son, Albie, who is about to go to University. Nonetheless, Connie insists that they all go on the great tour. The problems are evident from the get go – Albie would rather be in Ibiza with his mates getting drunk than dragged round the Classical sites of Europe with his dull father and whilst Connie views the trip as a long good-bye, Douglas pathetically clings to the hope that it will reunite them. Unsurprisingly, things do not go Douglas’ way and the entire trip becomes part tragic and part farcical disaster.

So what was my problem with the novel, which in some ways has a promising if rather inevitable premise from which to work? The first issue is that of the characters themselves. Douglas, who is our primary narrator, is well meaning – he has struggled to make both wife and son love him, but ultimately their way of thinking, their ideas and their interests are utterly disparate from his own and rather than thereby creating a character with whom we empathise, Nicholls’ character often just appears pathetic and dull. In some regards, he reminds me of Joe Rose from Mcewan’s ‘Enduring Love’, another character whose rationalization and scientific determination to understand and find a logical solution ultimately causes him to break down. Similarly, Connie is a less sympathetic echo of Clarissa Mellon, who in Mcewan’s text is a Romantic scholar obsessed with Keats and thus represents the opposing force of imagination to Joe’s scientific outlook. Here, Connie is a painter who has ‘educated’ Douglas during the course of their marriage as to the nature and history of art although his outlook prevents him from truly appreciating it in the instinctive way she and Albie do. The difference, however, is that whilst we have much empathy for Clarissa, it is difficult to see Connie as anything but a self-serving, hedonistic bitch who married Douglas as a safe option when the Bohemian world in which she was embroiled became too much. Albie is perhaps the most human of the lot in that he is not merely a representative type, but a more realistic depiction of teenage angst and struggle for identity and liberation.

My second problem was perhaps with Nicholls’ own intentions. Whilst ‘One Day’ was not trying ‘to be’ anything, it was a clever novel that explored a complex relationship, ‘Us’ feels as if it is written so that Nicholls can announce himself as a ‘literary’ writer. For all my criticism, which is worth about as much as a second hand teabag, he evidently did achieve this given the fact it was nominated for the Booker Prize (although as I have said before I never seem to value these nominations). As a result, page after page seemed to attempt to assert Nicholls’ intellectualism. Oh look we are at the Louvre, let me show you how much I know about the history of the art work here and even the lay out of the gallery. When I read this, I had just returned from Paris and a first trip to the Louvre and I did have much sympathy with his depiction of the crowded Mona Lisa room where one tiny picture was obscured by a dozen tourist faces and other monumental art works in the same vicinity were ironically ignored. Nonetheless, by the third city and the fifty fourth detailed description/history of one artist or picture or another that was often entirely divorced from the main narrative, I was bored. Nicholls is a successful, affluent writer, he does not need to announce his artistic or historical knowledge, by informing us about the sights of Venice in detail as if from a guide book (and in fact this is the ruse he uses through Douglas who carries a perpetual guide book with him). It is forced and false – stick a bibliography in at the end if you want, but I don’t want a pop history of European art in order to inflate the author’s ego and get him onto some Literary prize’s list.

Having said this, there were interesting moments. Nicholls has an ability to capture relationships effectively and in the case of Douglas and Albie this was often deeply affecting and humorous and was where the realism and interest in his novel actually lies – the struggle of an aging parent to empathise with and understand his teenage son in a world that he was never really part of, is moving. Without revealing too much, there was also something tragically touching about the final scenes concerning Douglas when he returns from the trip. So there were redeeming features to this novel and remnants of Nicholls’ brilliance and human understanding that marked ‘One Day’ as so exceptional, but his choice of characters and determination to display his intellectualism let ‘Us’ all down in his latest offering.

garfield

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‘All My Puny Sorrows’ by Miriam Toews

18339630‘All my Puny Sorrows’ is at once both incredibly funny and deeply tragic. It is an interesting and moving read, but not an easy one, (not least given the fact that the Toews is clearly drawing from her own personal experience). It tells the story of two sisters: one an exceptionally talented pianist, who has just about all she could desire from life – love, wealth, success, talent; the other, Yoli, who, like most of us, muddles along, often mucks up, stumbles, makes poor choices and just about scrapes by in life. Yet surprisingly, it is the successful Elfrieda, who wants to die and repeatedly tries to do just this despite the support and love of friends and family. Meanwhile, her sister, desperately tries to make her want to live. However, when Elfrieda’s latest suicide attempt fails, she has only one request from her beloved sister – to help her die.

This sounds like an immensely depressing read. Oddly, it is not. Toews tells the narrative with immense compassion and sympathy and although it is a story about death, she does not wallow in melodrama or ever allow her writing or characters to sink into the mire of depression that is drowning Elf. This is most impressive given Toews only biography; her father committed suicide in 1998 and is certainly the figure on whom the girls’ father is based in this novel. A successful teacher who campaigned to open a local library, (which is now named after him), he finally took his own life. Almost exactly twelve years to the day of this tragic event, her sister also killed herself despite having been in and out of hospital and, like the character in the novel, despite her sister begging health care officials not to release her. The autobiographical aspects of the novel, however, only make it a yet more poignant and impressive work.

In some ways, it is therefore difficult to say you enjoy a novel such as this given its subject matter. So why would I recommend it? Well, firstly, unlike works such ‘The End of your Life Book Club’ |(http://mrsstokeswigham.com/2013/12/28/the-end-of-your-life-book-club-by-william-schwalbe/ )with which it has much in common given its tragic, autobiographical nature, it does not wallow in self-pity and it does not force feed us with Christian morality as if to suggest God will magically make things right or has his reasons for letting us suffer. Rather, it is more in keeping with Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ as it addresses terrible and all too human suffering in both a realistic and relatable way that both moves and uplifts (albeit in a fictional form in the case of Toews.)

The difference, however, with Toews as opposed to Didion and Schwalbe, is the nature of the death and loss that they address as whilst the latter two are dealing with natural events, Toews deals with suicide – so often condemned and denigrated as selfish or a false cry for help. Toews gives those who suffer from depression and who are, all too often dismissed by both those around them and health care professionals as self-indulgent and not worthy of real attention, a voice. She firmly announces that depression is real and as terrifying, debilitating and fatal as any physical illness. In some ways, I imagine that this is a novel that can therefore only truly be appreciated by those who have had firsthand experience either through loved ones or personally of the degenerative impact depression can have. Nonetheless, the way Toews handles her subject matter forcing us to see Elf’s misery in all its stark reality and firmly announcing that it does not matter how ‘wonderful your life is’, like cancer or ALS or Alzheimer’s, depression does not discriminate based on who you are or what you have. Yet nor does she romanticize it or suicide itself. The impact on Elf’s family is tremendous and terrible, but even as we sympathise with them, our thoughts remain with Elf. It is an intricately balanced feat that ensures our empathy is retained for all involved and as Toews intended, the only real antagonists are the professionals who are supposed to care for Elf and fail.

Finally, it is also worth noting that Toews raises an interesting moral question regarding euthanasia for those suffering from depression and who want to die. This is a much more current topic in her native Canada whilst the British continue to languish behind refusing even to allow those in intense physical suffering to take their own life whilst we accept that our beloved pets do have this right to die with dignity and be relieved of their anguish. We are a long way from even debating this point here, but in Canada, it is, ironically, very much alive whilst the Swiss Dignitas, as Toews illustrates in her novel, also offer their services for those who are ‘weary of life’ so they can die as they wish with their loved ones rather than the brutality of ‘self and violent hands’. These are difficult moral issues, but Toews offers a voice of reason and compassion within the debate and whilst we in Britain may ignore it, I am sure that her words will inspire some and hopefully offer reason and enlightenment to a world that too often sidelines and ignores those mired in the darkness of depression.

Not an easy read, but an enlightening and important one that offers a light in the darkness both for sufferers of depression and those who support them.

topcat

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‘Farenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 is a seminal dystopian novel up there with ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’. Guy Montag is a fireman in a world where the job of the fireman is no longer to put out fires, but start them. Their role is to burn all evidence of books, which not only no longer have any purpose in this ‘brave new world’, but are also considered subversive.

What is so fascinating about this novel written in 1953 is how much of what Bradbury writes continues to resonate in the modern world. Whilst it may now seem impossible that all literature could be removed given the prevalence of the internet and the ebook, the manner in which the media seems to have usurped literature and the compulsive manner in which society follows soap operas and reality TV shows as a seeming substitute for reality or the manner in which there are increasing sectors of society that live in a virtual as opposed to real world are all ideas that are exposed by Bradbury. Bradbury claimed in the late 50s that one of the things that had inspired him was witnessing a woman and her husband walking their dog one evening. However, rather than talking to one another, she appeared to be ‘plugged into’ some device, which is what then inspired the ‘sea shell’ contraptions that so many of the inhabitants of his world employ. Yet today, it is almost impossible to walk down the street or sit on public transport without witnessing individuals literally plugged into their electronic devices and absorbed by mechanical contraptions that cut them off entirely from the world around them. Individuals have hundreds of facebook friends with whom they share intimate photos and yet in reality, very few they can rely on. It is then that you suddenly realise how close the world Bradbury created is to our own. Moreover, whilst we like to believe that this electronic exposure means that we have access to any and all information, events such as the Snowden case and the situation and censorship in North Korea, should also remind us that this a false security and utter fallacy. Whether it be Gove dictating what texts students should read and restricting these to British classics to the exclusion of the rest of the world or press corruption under the likes of Murdoch, we live in a world where information is controlled just in more subtle way to the ones imagined by Bradbury.

What is also terrifying is that as recently as 2006, parents in Texas attempted to ban the novel from their daughter’s curriculum on the basis that it contained too many obscenities and included the burning of the Bible (seemingly failing to recognise that this was not an act that Bradbury was condoning, in fact, quite the opposite given the manner in which it was memorised and regarded as a potent talisman in the novel). However, what such actions do reveal is that we are still not safe from the dystopian world which Bradbury so darkly envisages.

Guy Montag himself is also a fascinating character around whom the novel centres. Like Orwell’s Wilson, he is no heroic figure of superhuman proportions but an everyman who would be as much at home in an Arthur Millar tragedy as this dark future. Dissatisfied with a marriage that has been nullified by his wife’s inability to feel given her permanent drug induced state that is glossed over by the authorities and friends alike as merely symptomatic of the age, he finds his purpose when he discovers his first novel. And as any great lover of literature will understand, what this so vividly exposes is the power of literature to enlighten, to inspire, to educate and to enable us to escape.

Spoiler Alert: The novel builds with steady drama to its dramatic conclusion as the hound that guards the firemen slowly turns on Guy Montag and he is exposed and forced to run. For me, this is where the novel fell down slightly into melodramatic territory that I was less keen on. However, what is fascinating is the insight that Bradbury again appears to have into the future. Whilst Montag runs, the nation watches the chase riveted which is filmed from helicopters and dramatized for the nation to voyeuristically salivate over the demise of the ‘villain.’ What must a 1950s audience have thought of this preposterous idea; could they ever have believed that in a future 60 years on entire programmes and news segments would be dedicated to exactly this kind of violent entertainment where viewers gained a vicarious thrill from the potential of death?

Much like its dystopian literary cousins, I can’t say that I enjoyed this novel. It is not really my cup of tea. However, it is utterly fascinating in the manner in which it exposes human fallibility and flaws not merely in the 1950s, but even more poignantly, today. The originality of the concept and the insight the novel provides us cannot be doubted and as such, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (whether or not this is truly the temperature at which books burn or not) remains an engaging read that I would highly recommend.

garfield

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