Welcome to the first of my monthly book reviews. I am doing this as part of my Classics Club Reading Programme ( see the designated page on this site ) where I will be reading one book a month for the next 5 years but also because I think it's a great way to give my take on the story, summarize my thoughts and explain what I have learnt reading each book.
I chose this story because it was reccommended by a friend and I thought a futuristic tale could be a great way to start the year and so it has been! This book is just the sort I like - it's very original and has some meaty ideas to get your teeth into.
So, what's it all about? I'm sorry if they are any mistakes in my account but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Brave New World is set in a futuristic world state where humans are farmed in laboratories and conditioned throughout their lives to fulfill set roles in society and maximise consumption. This human 'production line' world unsurprisingly sees Henry Ford, captain of American industry, as God. People belong to different castes or levels of society and busy themselves with their work, organized sports and parties. They are kept 'happy' by taking large amounts of the drug 'soma' which has no immediate negative side effects and that is provided by the state. Basically everything is different from our society - there are no families or long term relationships and promiscuity is encouraged. Anyone who differs from the standard is considered defective, for example Bernard Marx who comes from the highest caste but who is unusually short, causing him to feel inadequate and therefore doubt the system and his friend Helmholtz Watson, also an 'Alpha' who feels he would like to do something more useful with his life. However, it seems that not all the world is under the world state as there are 'Savage Reservations' where some people live in families, have children and basically live our less perfect life. Perhaps naturally in a world where Ford is God, travel is quick and efficient and so people can easily go on holiday, even to visit a reservation. Bernard goes there with Lenina, a girl who is beautiful but unlike Bernard, shallow and strongly attached to conforming. Lenina is shocked by the way people live in the reservation. It is very rough, dirty and violent, in stark contrast to the world state. The couple meet Linda, a woman who once lived in the world state but was stranded in the reservation there after an accident while she was on holiday. Linda had to stay in the reservation because she was pregnant and it would have been shameful for her to be pregnant in the world state where there are only test tube babies. She raised her son John there with stories about the better world on the other side but they both remained outsiders, she because of her prosmiscuous ways and he because he didn't completely belong to either world. John sought refuge in his only reading material , The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and was inspired by the beautiful language and sentiment. When Bertrand discovers that John's father is in fact the Director administrates the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre he wants to take John and Linda back to the world state to reveal the scandal and discredit the Director who had previously threatened to exile him for his controversial ideas. Once back in the world state, the Director resigns in shame and Linda is put on a 'soma' holiday and eventually dies. This is really sad because it shows how strong her conditioning had been that after tasting freedom she preferred to go back to her 'cage'. John 'The Savage' instead becomes like a celebrity. There is a love interest between John and Lenina but it doesn't go anywhere because she is too superficial. John's grief at his mother's death causes uproar and Bertrand and Helmholtz are exiled by the "Resident World Controller for Western Europe" for antisocial activity. John decides to isolate and punish himself but soon attracts prying eyes. He finds this extremely irritating and lashes out, hitting a women (probably Lenina although this is not clear). In his remorse he commits suicide and is found hanging.
I have found the book very inspiring, particularly some of the words of John 'The Savage', who wants to live life, in all its shades, to the full. The quote
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
sums up what I want to do with my book club. I want to feel strong emotions and 'live a thousand lives' through reading'. I believe that emotional connection makes memorization easier and longer lasting so put simply, reading can help you to improve your English by doing something you love. This quote is my motto for this year as it really motivates me.
As regards the language of the book some of the most interesting examples can be found contrasting the language of two of the main characters John and Lenina. Lenina spouts drilled, bland set phrases that she has learnt through hypnopedia (sleep learning) while John quotes Shakespeare. Okay so the words aren't his own but he adapts them to his own personal circumstances adding meaning.
I have already written an article on idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are key when learning a language as copying phrases that natives use quickly allows you to sound more natural in a particular context and create empathy and the idea of shared experience and belonging to a community. It allows helps you avoid translating from your own language into English. However, paradoxically, now that English has become an international language, overuse of idioms may be exclusive. Remember that many of the expressions we use today were first coined in literature, most importantly Shakespeare. Why not shape things up a little and create your own or resussistate expressions you read in literature?
This novel raises some interesting questions. How close to our world is Huxley's? Is our decision-making being controlled with social media, pornography, the commercialisation of sex, advertising and reality TV? Mond the Resident World Controller for Western Europe says "The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." Is that so bad? Do we really want to be happy all the time? I think Huxley contrasts the world state and the reservation to underline the fact that yes, life may be messy and hard but it is real, and in the midst of it we can find beauty as John found Shakespeare.
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.