You know the look people get and the sounds they make when they’re equivocating over the answer to what is a fairly straightforward question of whether they liked something? You know, the pause before answering, the tilt of the head, the slight furrowing of the brow, and the not-quite-fully-formed ums, ahs, and wells?
I’m doing all of those trying to work out and then articulate what I think of Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. I finally got around to reading and have—and yes, I’m chuckling—a certain complaining contingent in the USA to thank. Their attempts to ban it gave me the impetus to shift it from my multiplying pile of books that I should get around to reading to the pile of books I’ve read.
I should preface the rest of this blog with the fact that I’m extremely glad I’ve read Brave New World and that I think it’s one we should all tackle at some stage in our lives. It is without a doubt a book that at both first glance and closer examination has much merit.
But I will follow that with the fact that I’m still grappling with what I think of it, whether I liked it, and whether ‘liking’ is an altogether silly thing to say—Huxley didn’t, after all, set out to write a book for us to enjoy. Instead he deliberately wrote one we wouldn’t in order to jolt us out of our catatonia and question what we’re doing and where we’re heading.
For those of you who haven’t yet read it, Brave New World features a future where human reproduction occurs via test tubes, monogamy is odd and ‘having’ many others is the norm, and there are castes of genetically engineered humans—from the top tier caste made up of the smartest to the lowest, least intelligent servant-style one—with subliminal messages embedding and reinforcing these ranks. The underlying essence of this is system is that everything is good and everyone is happy. Of course, that’s not even remotely the case.
I can’t shake the feeling that I should have read Brave New World at school because the teachers and coursework would have helped/made me unpack some of the complex, nuanced themes. Instead, I found the text a little boring and a lot less readable (or likeable, although see above regarding ‘likeability’) than the dystopian-themed books with which it’s traditionally grouped: 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. Worse, I found myself skimming the text, knowing I should be paying closer attention but kind of just wanting to get to the I-can-tick-it-off-the-reading-list end.
Credit where credit’s due, Brave New World is a clever, cutting examination of the soul-less place we’re heading (if we aren’t already there). Even more so when you consider that Huxley penned it start to finish in a mere, workman-like four months. I must say that I’m glad I read Brave New World and that it’s one we should all wrestle with in our lifetimes. I just think that once might be enough.