Blindness by José Saramago

STORY: An epidemic of blindness. What a horrible concept. At the very start of Blindness by José Saramago, a man goes blind, waiting in his car at a traffic signal. One moment he has perfect sight, and the next, all he can see is light, pure whiteness. No explanations given. Then, we see the blindness spread like wildfire. The first blind man is taken home by a helpful man, only to be taken advantage of. The apparently kind helper, who ends up stealing the first blind man’s car, meets his fate a while later: when he turns blind too. The first blind man, meanwhile, pays his ophthalmologist a visit. The doctor is confused – there is nothing wrong with his eyes, no medical reason why he should be blind. That evening, the doctor discusses his strange patient with his wife. After dinner, while pondering over the case, the doctor goes blind too. All around the city, patients who had been in the clinic with the first blind man lose their sight.
The doctor informs the authorities, who once they get over their disbelief, are quick to act. Quarantine. When the ambulance arrives to take the doctor to the quarantine, the doctor’s wife is unable to bear separating from her husband. She claims to have also lost her sight and accompanies him to the asylum for the blind. Through the eyes of the one woman who can see, we see the society of blind, as the people descent into savagery, akin to those in Lord of the Flies, but adults, with no one coming to rescue them.
STYLE: To give you an idea of the style of writing, let me quote something the doctor’s wife, the woman who sees, says.
Now we are all equal regarding good and evil, please, don’t
ask me what good and what evil are, we knew what it was each time we had to act
when blindness was an exception, what is right and what is wrong are simply
different ways of understanding our relationships with the others, not that
which we have with ourselves, one should not trust the latter, forgive this
moralising speech, you do not know, you cannot know, what it means to have eyes
in a world in which everyone else is blind, I am not a queen, no, I am simply
the one who was born to see this horror, you can feel it, I both feel and see
No question marks, no quotation marks, not exclamation points, no full stops and almost never any indents – that’s how the book is written. It is difficult to get accustomed to, difficult to make head or tail of. Take away the order in the writing and we end up, like the people in the book, with a mess that the best of us find difficult to wade through. Like a blind man groping in the dark for familiarity and meaning, we stumble through the labyrinth of words, feeling out sentences, mentally inserting punctuation, trying to make some coherence of the jumble. The style is genius and makes reading Blindness an incredible experience in itself. 
CHARACTERS: The characters have no names.
Fear can cause blindness, said the girl with dark glasses,
Never a truer word, that could not be truer, we were already blind the moment
we turned blind, fear struck us blind, fear will keep us blind, Who is speaking,
asked the doctor, A blind man, replied a voice, just a blind man, for that is
all we have here. Then the old man with the black eyepatch asked, How many
blind persons are needed to make a blindness, No one could provide the answer.
There you go, that’s them. The main characters of this book are: the doctor, the doctor’s wife, the first blind man, the first blind man’s wife, the girl with dark glasses, the man with the black eyepatch, the boy with the squint. No names, just physical descriptions, like identification markers. And they’re as evocative as character names can get. You can just picture them by their names. It’s convenient; except, irony: they’re all blind. While they don’t bother with names or outward appearances, all we can know them by is the outer shells. Again: genius. The book plays tricks on you, and it’s difficult not to let them get to you. 
THEMES: I haven’t even come close to figuring it all out. I’m still processing, having finished the book only a couple of days ago. For me, the book is about what it means to be human. Watching society as we know it collapse is horrific; but what makes you keep reading is the hope. The little gestures of love, affection and kindness; the old man with the black eyepatch finding love, the first blind man sympathising the man who stole his car. Their white blindness makes the people see the world in a new light, see things for what they truly are. The reason for the blindness hardly matters, and it’s never touched upon why that one woman (the doctor’s wife) remains sighted; it is understood that they always were unseeing, even when not blind. The book is harrowing, brutally honest and can sweep you up in its wisdom and leave you feeling exhausted and in awe. 
It’s also not for everybody. There is violence. Gory details about things that you’d rather pretend didn’t exist are thrust in your face. To read this book, you can’t afford to be blind to what’s right there in front of you, the book won’t allow you that luxury. Blindness by José Saramago is not a book you can read in a matter of days, or grasp in one read. It’s an effort, but in the end I think it’s worth it. It’s the first book to actually make me cry.

The 2014 Science Fiction Experience

I’m not your biggest expert in science fiction, not having read most of the bests. So undecided as I was about what to read for The 2014 Science Fiction Experience, which has begun already this month, I downloaded all the free science fiction short stories and novellas available on my phone. So far, I’ve read three.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London: This is supposed to be a classic dystopian; the book description called it a post apocalyptic fiction novel. To me, it seemed less like a novel and more like the basic framework of a novel. Set in the year 2072, the story follows an old man, Professor Howard James Smith, the only survivor from the old world and his savage grandsons. The old man tells them the story of the scarlet plague, which, ironically, struck the world in 2013 and wiped most living creatures off the earth. The savages listen to the old man’s detailed descriptions with disbelief, dismiss his complex language as the ravings of a mad man as the once Professor Smith mulls over the fate of civilization.
This book made hardly a story, narrated mostly in flashback. If it really were one of the first dystopians ever written, I can understand the charm. It is ingenious and does make you wonder. But the fact is, now, for the most part, it seems like a dull narration, put in contrast with many post apocalyptic stories I really like. It is too short to be called a novel (made me wonder if that slim Call of the Wild copy of mine is in fact, unabridged) and recommended, I guess, only to fans of the author.
The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster: This is a short story set in a future world where people live wholly underground with everything they need provided to them in their solitary cells. The only contact with the surface of the earth is during flights, but people prefer not to travel unless absolutely necessary, and when they do, they’re mostly uncomfortable and nearly always, scared of the view. The only activity people do is share their ideas through machine messages. This Machine, which runs their lives, has slowly gained a mystical, godly image and people have begun to revere it. One of these people is the main character, Vashti, who is invited by her son Kuno to visit her, out of the blue. He turns out to be a rebel and Vashti’s reluctant visit leads to her shocking discovery that Kuno has been to the surface of the earth, illegally.
If all this sounds just too obvious for your liking, consider this: the story was written in 1909. I know quite a few people who didn’t like Howard’s End much, but I seem to be very comfortable with Forster’s writing style. For a book written more than a hundred years ago, it is quite perceptive of the future and the characters and interactions so aptly and simply put will certainly strike a chord with today’s readers. If our machines stopped, would we be able to survive? In a few pages, the story makes you rethink a lot of your basic assumptions about the world and yourself. You can read it online here
2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut: 2BR02B, with the 0 read as ‘naught’, is a very short story, a brilliant satire about a future where they’ve found a cure for aging. What would happen if, like in this new world, the government took up the responsibility for administering all births and deaths? It goes like this: for every person to be allowed to be born into the world, one person has to volunteer to die.
This story was very Kurt Vonnegut. Dark, hilarious and abrupt. It took me only a couple of minutes to read this, it was over even before it really began and I found myself chuckling at the end! Basically: I loved it. Go read it here.
I’d say this was a good start to the challenge, and I mostly want to read short stories and novellas for now.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Often, when I read a book, I end up noting things down along the way. It then turns into a sort of rant-review and I can think of nothing else to write later. This post doesn’t have much of a beginning nor an end. Of course, if you’ve already read Never Let Me Go, this post would make a lot more sense to you than if you haven’t. I have to say, though: it is definitely worth a read. From the two books I’ve read of his, I find the author rather talented, mostly for having produced two quite different books. (The other one I read was An Artist of the Floating World.)

Summary: The book is narrated by a thirty year old woman, Kathy, who has been a carer for twelve years now. She is looking back on her life in this post-war world. Kathy and her friend Ruth were students of a special boarding school “Hailsham.” They spent their childhoods there, with the teachers (guardians) being the only people they had in their lives apart from themselves; they had no families and weren’t even allowed outside the school. The children were different from the people outside, you know, the “normal people”, though none of them knew why. Kathy reminisces about her past, about bonding with the misfit Tommy, losing him to sassy little Ruth, the quiet loneliness that followed, and other seemingly little incidents that build up to the moment when the students realize what fate has in store for them in the outside world. Kathy talks about meeting Tommy and Ruth years later, as their carer and helping them through their donations. Kathy is now about to quit being a carer and finally become a donor herself.

Never Let Me Go was so sad. Great, but very sad. It was depressing, it just got more depressing and more truthful with every page and the ending was so honest, it hurt. I liked it, of course and here’s why.

Most post-apocalyptic, dystopian books try to be suspenseful and fail. The plots follow a kind of formula: where there’s this post-tragedy futuristic world that’s supposedly working just fine, until our protagonist starts to not-fit-in and soon realizes that under the facade of a very well-functioning society lies this whole underground community of rebels. More often than not, the protagonist joins them and almost always, fails in overthrowing the system or loses something of himself in his attempt. Sure, dystopian fiction calls for this pessimistic, “Oh God, is this really how the world’s going to end up?” and tragic “No, wait, the world already is kind of like this, isn’t it?” flurry of reactions. But an author putting a lot of trouble into making the plot suspenseful, when we all know this is going to happen, gets tiring after a while. The thing that irritated me to no end in The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, was that very silly withholding of information. I couldn’t focus on anything, but that aura of mystery the narrator kept trying to create. It was a very childish technique of keeping someone interested, which combined with the overly obvious “message”, just didn’t have much of an impression on me. Deliberately misleading the readers into thinking something else, while employing the formula anyway is not very creative (unless it’s something like I am Legend, all the planning usually just gets in the way of actually sending across a message.)

What’s creative is coming up with a whole new approach to the story, which is what I think Ishiguro has done here. He’s never kept the pretense of “mystery”. It’s quite clear from the very beginning why the children are ‘special’, why they’re at Hailsham and how they’re going to end up. If you haven’t already guessed, I won’t say what, but I can promise you, you’ll guess before you reach even the seventh page. The narrator, Kathy, assumes we know, since we’re from such a school ourselves and focuses on her story, instead. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, the point of Never Let Me Go, the message that the author was trying to get across, seemed rather subtle. The characters in this book, quite maudlin and immature in their ideas, told a lot more than an unlikely hero would have.

The book made me think about what ‘doing good’ means, about double standards and how people like to believe in the ultimate good, even though we’re all just as confused as the next person. Do we try to believe our life makes sense only to gain some semblance of control, as we stand on the edge of an infinite pit of darkness, desperately trying to keep our balance. The book has no fairy tale ending. It just leaves a lingering feeling of helplessness that characterizes the lives of the people in the book, not to mention, our own lives. A loss of control that can only be dealt with by acceptance.

Little, Big by John Crowley

My third read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge is a fairy tale of sorts. Neil Gaiman called Little, Big one of his favourite books in the world and I do know why.

The book is massive, not in size but in scope and delightfully intricate, the kind of book that slowly makes its way into your thoughts, till it’s all you can think of. It took me a little more than a month to reach the last few chapters of the book, and then, just a couple of hours to devour it completely! It’s not a book full of action nor drama. It is quiet, almost lazy, but quite strong.

The book starts as Smoky Barnable journeys by foot to Edgewood to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater, whom he was prophesied to marry long before he knew her. What follows is a story spanning a hundred years, of the lives of four generations of Drinkwaters and their relations in a strange country house situated on the border of Fairyland. Daily Alice, her sister Sophie, her parents and aunts and children are all part of a Tale that is still unfolding and yet, is already written in the cards. Most of the family seem to sense the existence of the other land, and many, like Smoky, though unconvinced, go along with it. The odd creatures from the other world rarely make an appearance in the book, but they’re always there, watching, manipulating. As the story unfolds, the inevitability of the fate which was written by a mere stack of cards only strengthens.

The book is massive, I said, but it’s also small. Little, big, like the title. It’s a small glimpse of something that keeps on spiralling into new things, it’s a young story from an ancient world. It’s Smoky and Alice’s boy Auberon writing scripts for a soap opera and at the same time, it’s His Majesty Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, being resurrected after an eternity to rule a minuscule land.

The book made me think a lot about people. About me, of course, and about loving someone or losing someone and how both the things are in a pathetic way, quite the same. “Love is a myth”, the book tells us, like summer is a myth during a long winter; but it does come and just as surely summer goes away, becoming once again, just a rumour. The book gave me a different perspective on life and a whole new way of looking at destiny: the idea of living without letting the ultimate, total loss of control make you feel helpless. It made me wonder how we automatically assign wickedness to all things unknown, and how wickedness is just a crazy sense of humour. It made me realize how little we are. 

And so, it made me think about the supposed little things, things like the faces in the cracks of your ceiling and the imaginary friends all our parents have caught us talking to, the stories in our head about life, family, goals and jobs and the big secrets that we let rule our thoughts. Little things that make no big difference do make small differences, I guess. The real big things, big enough to be important in this old, wide world are far beyond our reach. And so the little things do matter, because while they may not change the wide world, they’re the things that we control and that change us. We’re all a part of something small and something unimaginably huge and balancing it out, often in vain, is what life’s all about. Right? 

For the first few hundred pages, it felt like I was reading a dream until it occurred to me that I was, in fact, reading a life: the prose, with all its meandering nuances was life, rambling on as it does. The story felt so real, precisely because it was so boundless.

“In the good old
days, when polls were as common as house-to-house searches were now, pollsters
asked viewers why they liked the bizarre torments of the soap operas, what kept
them watching. The commonest answer was that they liked soap operas because
soap operas were like life.

Like life. Auberon
thought “A World Elsewhere,” under his hands, was coming to be like a
lot of things: like truth, like dreams; like childhood, his own anyway; like a
deck of cards or an old album of pictures. He didn’t think it was like life–not
anyway like his own. On “A World Elsewhere,” when a character’s
greatest hopes were dashed, or his task all accomplished, or his children or
friends saved by his sacrifice, he was free to die or at least to pass away; or
he changed utterly, and reappeared with a new task, new troubles, new children.
Except for those whose embodying actors were on vacation or ill, none simply
came to a stop, all their important actions over, haunting the edges of the
plot with their final scripts (so to speak) still in their hands.

_That_ was
like life, though: like Auberon’s.

Not like a plot,
but like a fable, a story with a point, which had already been made.”

Oddly, the book bore an uncanny resemblance to another favourite: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. They are both so richly… magical. It’s odd, because when it comes to the content, they’re very different. The magic itself is vastly different. But both books carry that air of something initially mysterious and incomprehensible and at the end, honest and strikingly witty. Reading both the stories was like trudging through a long winding road, expecting a concrete destination, maybe a final showdown and realizing at the end just what the road was all about. It was when the pieces fell together, so to say, that I realized that they always were together; the picture was always complete, I just hadn’t deciphered it. The experience, though fascinating and intriguing, left me feeling almost silly both times, like when you first notice the faces in Rubin’s vase and wonder how you could have missed them. Perhaps the next time I read such a story, I won’t be fooled. And so, it would, I imagine, be an altogether different journey to re-read either of these books. I am curious to know whether I’d discover, learn everything then, that I’ve overlooked  now.

Re-reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Would it be crazy if I said that two weeks into being an English major has changed the way I see books?
Well, I re-read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 today; a book which I had first read only last year. In my review, if I remember correctly, I had written: “Imagine a world where books are burnt…”; which is probably the last thing you should say about this book, the part about “imagining”. We live in a world where books actually ARE burnt, metaphorically, of course… um, for the most part. It’s not only about censorship, the book, it’s about how the world is slowly just drifting away from books, banned or not.
(Oh, by the way, this post might be Long with a capital L. I am just so tired of saying (and hearing) “powerful message” and “complex underlying themes” over and over again; I am going to write about the message and themes, not about how powerful they were.)

Let me just say I am not against technology, even though I am almost entirely incapable of using most of it, or development, and I don’t think the book is against that either. Bradbury mentioned in an interview of some sort (I guess) about how he saw a husband and wife walking their dog; with the wife listening to a radio and with the both of them completely unaware of the actual life surrounding them. Haven’t we all seen that some place or the other? Two people in a hotel, both busy on their cellphones? The world of Fahrenheit 451 is just a blown-out-of-proportions version of what we live in. A place where books are burnt, and people are just bland faces staring at TV screens. Our protagonist Guy Montag is a fireman, in a world where firemen don’t extinguish fires but start them. Speaking of great beginnings, how about this one: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

I mentioned in my earlier review, that I would have liked to know more about how they got to that world. This time around, I felt that what he’s written was enough. It started with the minorities tearing out pages from books, until tearing wasn’t enough. If you think about it, it’s already started. And that’s where the part about censorship comes in. I heard that Bradbury said somewhere that “the world will get madder if we allow the minorities to interfere with aesthetics.” I agree, to some extent. Book don’t have to show how the world should be. Most books that are censored, don’t promote the things they are censored for mentioning (see: To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t suppose the person who banned it actually read it!). We have to get rid of prejudice in the real world, sure, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend in fiction that it doesn’t exist.

But the one thing that kept bugging me the whole time I was reading the book (not re-reading) was why this! Why books? What is it about literature that makes it so powerful, so seemingly dangerous? I may have to re-read the book a couple of times more to entirely answer that. However, I think I finally know what it is about books that I love so much, personally, what I love about reading. A book is not like a movie, that stays with you for only a little over the ninety minutes that it actually lasts. A movie or even a song makes you wonder and be awed, but it doesn’t make you think. I cannot watch a movie a hundred times and get something new out of it every single time. I don’t really think anyone can, not as much as with reading. It is as if books have a life of their own. If you know me, you know how I always say that books leave a lot more to interpretation. I guess it is because those few words can lead thoughts to any direction. The same few words can form entirely different pictures in different minds; the characters can relate in completely different ways to different people. And you never know where they’ll take you every time. Read a book on a beach and you are transported some place else, read it in a moving train and you feel something else entirely; reading the same book when you’re bored and when you’re happy can make you experience things completely different. You cannot read a book without really thinking about it; analysing it, without even realizing what you’re doing. You may later even forget what actually happens in that work of fiction, but those thoughts stay with you forever. And every book, every single book, gives you entirely different thoughts, opens up doors to newer thoughts and feelings.

(…and so they went ahead and banned this book…)

If you have actually made it so far, you wouldn’t mind telling me what you think about the book, would you? (And if you haven’t made it this far, well… then, you’re not reading this, so I don’t really have to write anything for you…)

This review is a part of the Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic re-read. 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I know most people out there wouldn’t agree with me on this
one; but I thought Oryx and Crake was better than The Handmaid’s
Tale. This book was very nicely written and though I did think that the
plot slacked a bit at places, it didn’t stop me from being completely drawn
into the book. The mystery, the “what the hell is happening”-feeling
was just great. The only thing I hated about the book was that it was a library
copy, and some crazy person had underlined (with a bold pen) words like toga
and scamper and written down meanings in corners (which is worse than
dog-earing the pages, according to me, anyway.)  Sorry, not the point.
Oryx and Crake isn’t a proper dystopian novel; it is sort of
a dystopia in a dystopia. A short summary (from Goodreads): 
Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by
a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human,
and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive
Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a
journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush
wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took
mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.
I am not in the mood to write a proper book review, as I
rarely am these days. There were parts in the book, which were unrelated to the
plot and seemingly unnecessary, and I just loved them. See for yourself how
simply and beautifully the book is written:
A caterpillar is letting itself down on a thread,
twirling slowly like a rope artist, spiralling towards his chest. It’s a
luscious, unreal green, like a gumdrop, and covered with tiny bright hairs.
Watching it, he feels a sudden, inexplicable surge of tenderness and joy.
Unique, he thinks. There will never be another such moment of time, another
such conjunction.
These things sneak up on him for no reason, these
flashes of irrational happiness. It’s probably a vitamin deficiency.
A beautifully written book isn’t always a well thought out
book, and I get that, especially in case of this one – because it wasn’t up to
the mark plot and character arc-wise, not to mention, the slightly goofy
seeming scientific details. But sometimes, a beautifully written book leaves a
far greater impression on you than a well though-out book (hey, I said,
sometimes) and this one was one of those few books for me. Somehow (I may be
able to better explain how later) I loved this book.
If you like dystopian fiction, check out Dystopia 2012 at Bookish

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

If you are looking for a very nice and detailed sort of review of the book, this is not it; but I could redirect you to a good one here.
The first dystopia I read was Orwell’s1984, when I was in high school. I re-read it years later now, and I still can’t seem to get over its charm and genius. I have re-read the Appendix, which explains the principles of Newspeak more times than I could count! Another dystopian novel (actually, novella) I remember reading was Ayn Rand’s Anthem. It was a good book. Only last year, I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and was awed by the whole concept. Yet, when someone posed the question: “Do you like dystopian fiction?”, I immediately thought to myself, “Not really”. I was so wrong. I decided to take part in the Dystopia 2012 Challenge at Bookish Ardour. And I am so glad I did, because for whatever reason, I would never have picked this book up otherwise. It is the sort of book that everyone should read.
The book Brave New World is written by Aldous Huxley in 1932. “Community, Identity, Stability” is the motto of the World Controllers. In what seems to be a utopia or an ideal society, happy, perfect people are  created using a combination of developed technology and sleep-learning and such. Like in 1984 there is, however, someone who doesn’t quite fit in this society.
It is difficult, at times, to connect to the (sort of shallow) characters, but the story draws you in nevertheless. It is very intriguing that, what seems like a utopia, is actually a dystopia. And I wonder, what exactly would be a utopia?  The frightening vision of the future, made me really think about the nature of morality. The book is at times quite ridiculous, and at times hauntingly real.
It seems, Brave New World was inspired by a novel by H.G. Wells called The Sleeper Awakes, which I now can’t wait to read. If you haven’t read Brave New World, do yourself a favour and go read it! Now!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This review is a part of the Dystopia 2012 Challenge hosted at The Bookish Ardour.

“A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier, once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to. “

About the book: The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel by
Margaret Atwood, which was first published in 1985.
Summary: (from Goodreads) Offred is a Handmaid in the
Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a
day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words
because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a
month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of
declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their
ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and
made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her
daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. 
all of that is gone now…
My Thoughts: This may seem like a very halfhearted review
and I do not blame you for thinking that. I don’t usually tend to write reviews
about books I don’t like, unless they’re review copies, in which case I have
to. It’s because I am mostly unable to think of anything to write. But since I
read this book as part of a challenge, I decided to go ahead and write the
I have seen this book compared to Orwell’s 1984 countless
times. I won’t try to tell you how wrong those comparisons were; I merely want
to show how wonderful I expected this book to be. What I got, instead, was very
clumsy writing; not to mention very little character development and an average
The book starts out painfully slow. The writing is childlike,
with short pretentious sentences, too many metaphors, an inconsistent narrative
and for some reason, no quotation marks. The authors tries too hard to sound
beautiful, scary, touching. Throughout the book, the reader is kept in the dark
about most important things, and instead presented with a whole lot of
irrelevant details. Till the very end you don’t get a clear explanation of why
the world is this way, what drove the characters and we never find out what
happened of half the characters.
So much of the plot is withheld for so long, and I can think
of no other reason why the author would do this than to attempt to keep the
audience intrigued. I wasn’t intrigued, just confused, slightly irritated and
sort of amused. The only reason I kept reading the book was because I had to
find out if the mystery ever ends.
I wish the book had a more intricate plot, or better
developed characters. The book would make a much stronger statement, if only
all the underlying themes such as gender, sex, caste, class and patriarchy
were, in fact, underlying. I like books that have a point to make, but not if
the message starts to hinder the plot and character development. I appreciated
the basic premise of the book, the world that the author has tried to create
and the impact she’s tried to make; but that basic idea was the only thing I am
completely certain I liked.

If someone asks me how I find this book, I won’t say I hate
it, because I don’t; I would just call it okay.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Imagine a world where books are burnt and reading is out-lawed
Guy Montag is a fireman; but in this world a fireman’s job is to find books and burn them. In the society Montag lives in, people don’t think or feel, they just go on doing what they’re told. Teenagers drink and hurt/kill other for fun. There are virtual families, only television screens to interact with. Books are banned; people in possession of books are put in institutions, their books are burned along with their houses.
Montag lives a content life as a fireman. That is, until, one day, he meets his new neighbour, Clarisse McClellan – the seventeen year old, who is endlessly curious about all the things the world has forgotten to care about. In this bland lifeless world, she represents individuality and freedom. The young girl makes Montag question his happiness, makes him feel uneasy about the life he lives.

One day, on seeing a woman choose to burn alive with her house full of books, than live without them, Montag begins to wonder if the world is wrong about reading, after all. And that is when he steals a book to see for himself…
I haven’t read many dystopian novels, but I always wanted to read this book. The idea of a world without books is scary, fascinating and even after all these years (the book was published in 1953) very relevant. You hardly see kids playing in the park anymore, usually they just sit at home and play videogames. Reading is un-cool and the movies are becoming increasingly nonsensical. Don’t you think? And so the author shows us the future – a world where those who dare to think and feel differently, those who dare to think at all, are suppressed by the society.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual’, of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”
The author doesn’t ask us to really follow books, because that would be as dangerous a statement as any. Reading makes us think (contemplate, whatever.) It is like food for the mind. The author wants us to be curious; remember why things should be done and not just how. Reading helps us hold on to the thing that makes each of us unique; our mind, our opinions.
It’s a beautiful concept, the theme of this book. What I didn’t appreciate, was the execution of the idea. The fast-paced, science-fiction-ey style of writing makes it an exciting read. But, the book is too short; Montag has his epiphany-moment, even before you understand this new world or its rules. The characters are strong and the novel, with all its metaphors and symbols, gives you a lot to ponder over; but too much is left to you. I would have liked a longer history of how society got to this point, or Montag’s life over the years, before this abrupt turn of events.
That being said, I do think it is a book everyone should read.