Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh God, the terrible tyranny of the majority."

Dissing classic works of art usually indicates arrogance or stupidity on the part of the disser. Even worse, when a book lover, such as this reviewer, shows lack of respect for a classic novel loved by millions, written by a book lover and promoting the love of books, it may seem to border on insanity. Yet I am unable to recommend Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is a review of a book, a work of literary art, not a critique of the important ideas that the author tried to convey. The indisputable value of a book's message does not absolve the author from having to write well. So while I wholeheartedly agree with most of what Mr. Bradbury has to say, reading the book has been a struggle - so lacking I have found the prose.

Most readers know the premise of this famous dystopian novel, often mistakenly categorized as a science-fiction book. Written in 1953, during the times of McCarthyist persecutions, the novel portrays the then future, at least 50 years later, meaning just about the current times. The full prohibition on books is being enforced and books are publicly burned when found, along with the houses where they were stored; the book owners are imprisoned. People spend their leisure time either watching stupid television shows on wall-size TVs or amuse themselves by driving their cars very fast. Guy Montag is a fireman, which means - in a cute inversion - that he works as a member of book- and house-burning crew. One day, having witnessed an elderly woman choosing self-immolation rather than watching her books burned, Montag experiences an epiphany of sorts and embarks on the search for understanding the power of books.

Popular websites offer detailed and often overreaching analyses of the main themes, motifs, and social diagnoses offered in the novel. I can only submit my personal take on some of the themes. 63 years ago Mr. Bradbury was spot on in recognizing how effectively the citizens can be controlled via television. Participation in the passive entertainment provided by TV shows, which Bradbury calls "parlor families in the walls", prevents people from undertaking any mental effort to understand what is happening around them and cuts off their contact with reality. The modern day "reality shows" - which are farther from reality than anything else on television and which further impoverish the viewers' perception of the actual world - are the embodiment of Mr. Bradbury's prophetic and scary vision. These days one should also consider the Internet as potentially even a stronger tool of peoples' intellectual enslavement. Another fascinating theme in Fahrenheit is the "tyranny of majority", a subject currently quite relevant because of the pervasive atmosphere of "political correctness". But enough proselytizing - let's now focus on what's wrong with the book.

I find the novel horribly overwrought. The reader will find frenzied histrionic babbling on almost every page. The bad prose obscures the powerful message of the novel. Consider the following passage:
The victim was seized by the Hound and camera in a great spidering, clenching grip. He screamed. He screamed. He screamed!
Montag cried out in the silence and turned away.
Repetition - the major trademark of minor writers. But what's worse is the irony when the author himself criticizes the hysterical style of writing when quoting Paul Valéry:
The folly of mistaking [...] a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths [...]
There are undoubtedly many capital truths in what Mr. Bradbury writes, but they are hard to discern in the torrent of his verbiage. The theatricality of the author's style has caused this reader to giggle in supposedly dramatic fragments. Another capital sin of the novel is its naive didacticism evident, for instance, in Professor Faber's rants.

Bottom line: the subpar prose nullifies the impact of the important ideas and sharp social insights the author attempts to convey.

Two stars.

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