This is one of those classics that you’re supposed to read, a dystopian vision of the future that sits in the pantheon containing 1984, Brave New World and Slaughterhouse 5. It certainly contains a bleak vision of the future.
Originally published in 1953, it has predictions of the future that seem both insightful and naive. He’s guessed at some of the technology very well, but completely missed the mark elsewhere, which is to be expected. The culture of the 1950s (well, much of the 20th century) remains too, with the women staying at home while the men go off to work. Something that rankles modern sensibilities.
It shows a future where books — the source of unhappiness and discontent — are outlawed and firemen no longer put out fires, but guard against the written word by burning any that are found.
The main motifs seem to hint at state control, of a docile, unthinking populace that are happy to be distracted with simple entertainments and treat the occasional burning of their neighbours like Romans visiting the Colosseum. The aim seems to be to slap the reader and try and wake them from their mental slumber.
I found the narrative a bit disturbing. It started well enough and I thought we’d settle into an exploratory current as our protagonist, Guy Montag, has his eyes opened by the young girl who lives next door, the one who sees the world differently. That wasn’t the case though and for the rest of the story we lurched along in an internal crisis, which I found frustrating.
Many of the themes ring true today, from the supposed loss of ‘longform’ to the disappearing newspapers to the vapid TV shows. (I happened to have read a story about a wave of teenage joyriders while listening to this.) Plus the distrust of those in power. The faceless bureaucrats. I suspect that’s why it’s so popular a book — because the themes are universal and each generation has their own combustion point. Maybe when you’ve been through a cycle the impact is lessened.
There seems to be a lot of pontificating too. Both from the ‘bad’ side, in the form of Montag’s boss, but also the ‘good.’ All of it sounded like some spiritual guru mouthing off with dime-store philosophy, but lacked any substance. Clever words thrown together with no meaning.
Although book burning has a precedence in history, I think part of my reaction came down to a disbelief any such thing could ever happen, that there are far too many people too in love with books. Making the events outlines far too outlandish.
From a technical stand point, my copy was read by Stephen Hoye, who does a very good job with a slightly mesmeric voice.
The book is highly lauded, so maybe I’m missing something. I was wary of criticising it, but I have to call it as I see it. I found it hard to get through and without a core I could cling to.