After I’d read Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, I decided to re-read Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I thought I’d read the novel many years ago when I had time to binge read on an almost daily basis. Whether it was rose-tinted long hot summers or not enough homework, I never seemed to have any difficulty finding plenty of time for reading fiction during my Sixth Form years. I recalled reading 1984 and Brave New World back then but knew I’d re-read both within the last couple of years.
So, time for another look at Bradbury’s renowned Farenheit 451.
I downloaded a Kindle copy and sure enough the first couple of chapters did seem familiar. But the more I got into the novel the more it became apparent that, actually, I hadn’t read it previously at all. And that’s probably because it’s really heavy going and I almost gave up once again.
But this time round I was determined to persevere and I’m glad I did.
Usually if I’m not enjoying a novel I stop reading. As the late, great Frank Zappa is reputed to have said, “Too many books, not enough time!” And ordinarily I would have given up on Farenheit 451 after the first few chapters.
The dystopian nightmare of a book burning world is really well created and the emerging turmoil of Fireman Guy Montag as he encounters the unsettling, seventeen years old Clarisse McClellan makes for an intriguing start. His relationship with his wife, Mildred, as Guy attempts to preempt her suicide is complex and perplexing. The plot of the novel is good and the other characters, especially Beatty the Fire Chief and Faber the intellectual, are well developed. All the ingredients are there for a really good read. But I found Bradbury’s style so ponderous and heavy, his philosophical ramblings so tedious that I had to force myself to continue reading.
But when I’d arrived at the ending I knew I’d read something really special. Bradbury’s exploration of censorship and intellectual constriction is very apt for the McCarthyite era in which Bradbury found himself. That any publisher of the day was prepared to handle writing so explicitly critical of censorship was remarkable. And with the passing of time the book’s insights into media manipulation and the control of popular culture is hugely prescient and testament to Bradbury’s cognitive perspective.
It’s a pity that Bradbury didn’t invent a way to continue Clarisse in the story as she and her family had a fascinating, almost-hippy take on life which might have lightened the narrative if sustained. The eight legged dog was downright stupid and contributed to my irritation with the novel.
Overall, a most thought provoking read in terms of writing style, content and implications. Highly Recommended!
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