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Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Member Name: clownfoot
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Date: 16/06/09, updated on 12/01/12 (232 review reads)
Advantages: One of the best sci-fi books your ever likely to read, and only 192 pages long!
Disadvantages: There are no disadvantages - fool...
Guy Montag enjoyed his job as a fireman. He enjoyed burning houses. He enjoyed burning the books inside them. The kerosene smell that he wore like aftershave and the flicker of flames as they licked over the pages of a multitude of books he was instructed to burn was a universal delight. But for a chance encounter with Clarisse McClellan things would probably have remained this way. Yet there was something quite liberating about her oddball fascination with the natural beauty of the world, her questioning of why rather than how and actually investing time in having conversations with people, which sparked a neuron or two to awake in Guy's mind. Suddenly the realisation dawned that he was far from happy with the world around him, and the subconscious hand that had previously stowed away a book to his home was curiously aroused again. This time he would read the words contained within and with it begin a journey beyond ignorance and into a brave new world...
Fahrenheit 451 is often referred to in the same breath as Orwell's '1984' and Huxley's 'Brave New World' but not always with quite the same vicarious authority. It's generally seen as a lesser book to the insightful political theory of Orwell's mind and the fantastical satirical world of Huxley. But whereas both of these authors used futurism to create dystopia's that were conditioned more by the issues of the world around them at the time (communism, totalitarianism, war fatigue, etc.) Ray Bradbury crafted a story with an astounding prescience that makes it as compelling a read today as it was when first published in 1953.
A quick, concise tale at only 192 pages it dives straight into its main concept - a futuristic world that seems to have gone completely insane. Firemen no longer put out fires, they start them! Yet Bradbury does away with the communist/fascist motifs littered within his contemporaries novels and instead creates a world much more terrifying and relevant to a western audience. For sure, book burning conjures up images of goose-stepping Nazis, but rather than occupy Fahrenheit 451 with themes of brutal oppression and censorship (for which we have relatively little experience, except for what we have previously read on the likes of the Soviet Union), Bradbury settles for something much more at home - abject apathy.
Indeed, Montag's ignorance, along with that of the future society he inhibits, is due to the fact that the masses let it happen. They wanted the fun fairs, parlour walls and fast cars and simply allowed for the written word to be extricated away from them. By placing their own happiness first, the people of Montag's world are contented with losing the ability to think for themselves. In many ways this rings true with elements of today's world. The internet, reality television (which the parlour walls superbly represent) and media manipulation, in the place of books, are all symptomatic of a supposed dumbing down process that democracies use to make their subjects unconsciously subordinate. By keeping the populace interested in things that don't really matter (like Jade Goody's Martyrdom, for example), people tend to take their eye off the things that are of real central concern. The nuclear war that is hinted in the background of Montag's world is a wonderful parallel in this instance.
Bradbury's tale also supposes that without the institution (or occupation) of book reading, people are also more readily accepting of what is reported to them by the media. Instead of questioning and corroborating the information disseminated, individuals blindly take a range of irrelevant and unconnected factoids to be an inherent truth. It could be well argued that Bradbury's chief concerns on the importance and value of books still rings true today.
There is, of course, much more to Fahrenheit 451 than just its prescient context. Montag's meeting with Clarisse is no different to Neo waking up in The Matrix, and it's his new found powers of thinking for himself that drive the story forward. Yet this journey is not a simple one. The love of his wife, Mildred, is at odds with this new notion of acquiring knowledge, especially as she is unprepared (and unwilling) to accept his new nature. Additionally, it's his fire chief, Captain Beatty, who holds the real key to Montag's eternal soul. Allowed to read a book, will the power of a few emotive words be enough to move Montag to ditch everything that he previously valued in life, or will he resort to his mentor's apathy and the knowledge he is destined to remain unhappy?
It's the cut and thrust of the 'will he, won't he' torment that makes for a tense and suspenseful thriller, which sits comfortably alongside Bradbury's more considered symposium of thought. Indeed, the build up to a specific confrontation allows the book to shift gear once again in the last third, as it develops into a rip-roaring action-adventure. Compared to the likes of Orwell, it's a welcome relief that Fahrenheit 451 does not get too bogged down in any extensive political ideology. Instead, Bradbury's writing is vivacious throughout, covering relevant and interesting concepts in short shrift, but always with enough depth that few questions are left unanswered. Furthermore, the content runs its course in a swathe of memorable imagery, enjoyable prose and, even with only seven central roles, some wonderful characterisation - none more so than the description of the marvellous mechanical hound (okay, shit name, but it is a beast of exquisite description and verve).
That Fahrenheit 451 moves swiftly between genres without jarring the pleasure of the read is one of its uppermost qualities. That it is also thoughtful, introspective and still relevant today, as all good science-fiction should seek to be makes it a highly recommended read. Forget 1984 and Brave New World for a moment, as I'm pretty sure each and every one of us has had one of those Guy Montag moments before. Perhaps when we next feel disillusioned with our place in the world, we'll happen upon a chance encounter of a copy of Fahrenheit 451 (our own Clarisse McClellan). We can then beam with delight that we haven't squandered the pleasure of reading and have maintained our own cognition in the face of eternal apathy. Fahrenheit 451 is Bradbury's masterwork and a splendid book in every sense!
Overall - Better than 1984 and a Brave New World. There, I said it...
The following paperback edition of the book is currently available form Amazon for £5.99.
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: HarperVoyager (16 Aug 1993)
RRP: £7.99 (paperback)
Summary: Ray Bradbury's sci-fi masterpiece on the pleasure of books!