Thursday 13 September 2012

Fahrenheit 451 review

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
A Long, Long Time Ago (1953)
I Don't Even Know (Harper Voyager (this edition, anyway))

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. 

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family." But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear, and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. 

When Mildred attempts suicide, and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life. 

First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a classic novel set in the future when books forbidden by a totalitarian regime are burned. The hero, a book burner, suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas that cry out silently when put to the torch.

This is another one of those 'reviews' that can't really be called a review because I have no idea how to actually review review a modern classic. There's a reason I never wrote about Gatsby or Slaughterhouse 5 when I read them on here, and I think that's probably because I'm really insecure about my ability to understand these kinds of books on the deeper level that they're meant to be understood. I really enjoyed Gatsby, but I couldn't tell you anything about what it actually means, and I guess I just really don't want to look like I'm stupid, or that I've misunderstood. But this isn't an analysis of the text, this isn't meant to be me talking about what it means, and quoting it, and looking way too much into why he used the words he used and all that rubbish. I have enough of that in school (and I actually really enjoy it, but only when somebodies started me off). This is just meant to be me telling you how I actually, personally felt about the book. So. I should probably get on with that now.

I really liked this book. I feel like we should start off there, because that's the only that that, at the minute, I really know that I feel about it. It was just so completely differently to what I usually read (sounds a bit obvious, I know, but sometimes I forget how different books about adults are compared to books written about teenagers. Though it could be argued that there are some similarities in themes because Montag is suddenly shown this new way of seeing the world by Clarisse, and he has to adjust to this sudden new way of thinking, and this new person he's becoming who's so different from the person he was but a week ago, and the whole rebellion thing, with him starting to take an interest in the books he's spent his life destroying. I'm not going to be the person to argue it though.)

It feels like it had a more obvious message than other modern classics that I've read, but I guess that's because it's a whole different genre (yeah, Slaughterhouse is kind of sci-fi-y, but I'll be dead before I make head or tail of that book. So it goes.) The middle section of the book was probably the most difficult for me to relate to, because a lot of it was just Montag getting angry at his wife/Beatty or Faber talking about why books were really being burned now, as opposed to the false history Beatty had previously given. It felt like the least subtle part of the book to me, which I guess shouldn't really be a problem given the fact that usually the deeper meaning of these kinds of books go straight over my head, but it did at times feel clunky, and like there hadn't been much to prompt this change in Montag apart from Clarisse spouting stuff about actually talking to people and tasting the rain, ect. It definitely would've been a bigger issue for me, though, if there wasn't such a beautiful use of language.

That being said, though, I often felt like it was too much at once. Too much packed into such a short book. But then you'd never get any of the intensity of the book. And it feels intense, at times, it really does. Particularly in the last third of the book. It's just that such an intense use of language and punctuation (so many exclamation marks!) and character is used that it takes a while to adjust to, and after you have adjusted to it you've already finished the book. If I was writing this as an essay opposed to as a Rambly-Cicely-Has-All-The-Thoughts type of thing, I would probably relate the intensity of the language to whole fire theme of the book; that it's like the intensity of the flames as they lash out and at first burn books, but then burn people (spolier alert!). But I'm not going to. At least not any more than that, anyway. *Takes off the Almighty Hat Of Pretensions*

It's really weird for me, reading a book full of people that I cannot relate to, and I think this is my main issue with adult books as a whole. Not the fear of not understanding, but the fact that I have such a different mindset and lifestyle to these people, and that they're not going through the things I'm going through, and feeling the things that I'm feeling. It's a great comfort, when you're a teenager, to read about other teenagers who are like you and end up okay. With these kinds of books it's a completely different experience, and that's why it always takes me a bit longer to read them. The other thing with the characters is that sometimes they come across as not being characters, but acting as a metaphor. This I found especially with the main female characters: Clarisse and Mildred. Clarisse is obviously meant to represent the time before this dystopian future, and people who embrace the idea of having conversations and thinking and actually experiencing being alive, whereas Mildred is meant to be the reality of people in this future. Someone who believes that she is happy because she constantly ignores any real problems she has by shutting them out and spending time with the 'family'. It's really odd having the two-dimensionality of the characters in the face of the three-dimensionality of the world that's been built, and the way in which society and the media has been represented. (I don't actually know what I'm talking about now. I'm just making it up as I go along, really.)

Now that I've gotten to the point at which I'm spouting pretentious nonsense, I think it's time for me to finish this up. I'll try and review more classics (if/when I read them) though I can't guarantee that they'll be any better than this, of course. It was just a bit of an experiment. But I did genuinely really enjoy Fahrenheit 451, and I feel like it's one of those that I'll understand and enjoy much more as I get older. (I was going to make a pun here, but it didn't really seem to fit the whole theme of this post. Felt a bit out of place.)

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