Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 1954 (this edition 2008)
ISBN: 978 0 00 654606 1
As some of you may well know, I’m not exactly a fan of science fiction, but it just felt somehow wrong to go any longer without having read Ray Bradbury’s famous Fahrenheit 451, the tale of a dystopian future in which books are burned (you can imagine how I felt about this..) because they are accrediated with spreading dangerous ideas. Within this new, strictly controlled society, imagination is frowned upon and a group of men known as ‘Firemen’ are employed to burn any books that have survived the initial culls. The novel centres on one such fireman, Guy Montag, who eventually begins to find himself wondering whether the forbidden books could add something to his life, or hold the key to his happiness, and sets out to obtain some of the illicit literature. Predictably, this does not end well.
Unfortunately, it was clear from the very start of this book, which incidentally has one of the most unusual openings I’ve ever encountered, that it would embody many of the sci-fi features I dislike- lack of character development, lack of a clear plot and lack of a clear conclusion to name a few. Speaking of the characters, I felt no connection at all to Montag or his wife Mildred. I felt that Mildred was somewhat uninteresting and was given little to do other than showcase what the average, brainwashed citizen believed in this dystopian world, whilst her husband Montag was a perfectly ordinary protagonist who served no purpose other then showing how the dynamic in this strange world would change if someone had the audacity to rebel. The only time I felt any connection with the protagonist at all was when he finally escaped the city holding him prisoner, and even then this is more due to Bradbury’s detailed description of the definitive moment of his escape than his character development. In my opinion, the most interesting character was actually Montag’s fanatical boss Beatty, since he provided an insightful look into the mind of someone who has been brainwashed into believing in certain ideals. I thought the book felt a little ‘flat’ after his exit, and certainly didn’t feel he was villainous enough to deserve is eventual fate. In fact, I’d go as far as saying he could have been made a much more major character. I don’t wish to disclose any spoilers, but I will hint that the only other characters I felt particularly invested in were the ones encountered outside the city.
One thing I did love about this book, however, was the actual premise. In an increasingly technology-obsessed society (she rants as she types this review on a laptop- I give you permission to laugh!), this book seems more relevant than ever, as it is sadly genuinely possible to imagine a future where technology will completely annihilate literature. A scene when a character being pursued by the police is described, in intense detail, as being broadcast live on television, as well as using the general theme of using digital media to promote certain ideals and spread an anti-imagination rhetoric, combine to provide an unnerving insight into what the future could be like in a world where the constant availability of social media and technology impeaches all privacy and can be used to manipulate and control individuals at any given time. That being said, I’d like to believe Fahrenheit 451 is an ironic book at heart, intended to showcase a very extreme, satirical version of our future. I enjoyed the premise of the banned books, but most definitely interpreted it as being of a humorous nature when paired with the ludicrous idea of firemen. I was particularly amused by the idea of The Bible only existing as a radio show, on which Jesus spends his time issuing product placements and anti-book rhetoric!
I further enjoyed the psychology behind this book, and found it somewhat realistic, as I’m sure everyone can identify with Montag’s desire to have something considered ‘wrong’ or forbidden. The idea of searching for happiness in something one has never been allowed-in this case books- further struck a chord. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, I was fascinated by the idea that banning books, and thus the many diverse and often unusual ideas they spread, could be a way of eradicating any thoughts that do not conform to the message the government aims to spread. In this case, banning literature is used as a way of keeping citizens concentrated into cities where the government can control and monitor their behaviour by ensuring their lack of imagination will mean they never even dream of wanting to leave. Once again, the idea of controlling rhetoric and agenda setting feels very relevant in today’s often politically charged climate.
Ultimately, however, I must confess to being somewhat disappointed with this book. It simply didn’t make much of an impression on me, probably because, like all sci-fi, it just felt a little too unrealistic and ‘out-there’. The end of the book, for instance, is devastating, but feels like something Bradbury added into his plot at the last moment just to increase the shock factor. This, along with other key moments in the book, is described in such gratuitous detail that one almost feels like Bradbury is going off on various tangents, in the form of numerous, over-complicated sub-plots, just to make the novel a little more ‘padded out’ in plot as well as longer. I would regard this book as being quite like a second-rate version of The Chrysalids– it is equally disturbing as the former in premise, but is sadly devoid of characters one can sympathise with, and feels just a little too ‘flowery’ in description to be taken seriously at times. With regards to both plot and description, sometimes the most affecting books are relatively simple, and focus on conveying one devastating message. Bradbury seems simply unable to select a plot to focus on, and thus not one of his little sub-plots earns enough focus to have much emotional affect on the reader. I’m afraid to say I found this book over-rated, and decidedly average, although this may in part be because I am not much of a sci-fi fan. Time will tell whether I’m just being too harsh here, as I plan on branching out and reading more science fiction in the future, but for now, here is my verdict:
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 (3/5)
Thanks for reading,