The first few chapters are exposition — a disjointed, opaque slog of a journey — but once that’s out of the way and the story picks up, it’s a quick, multi-layered read studded with expertly-placed philosophical questions. Heavy on plot and light on character development, it’s clear this novel was written around a thesis, more of a manifesto via story than the other way around, but it’s skillfully done. Little details, like Huxley’s consistent use of “pneumatic” and “sententous” as adjectives, and repeated plot features like taxicopters and feelies and soma rations create an immersive world. I’m sure the pre-writing for this novel was vastly larger than the finished product. It’s worth a read, for its status as a classic and for those well-placed questions of philosophy, and because for a rather dark novel, it still has a beautiful message and some shining rays of hope.
In fact, the overall darkness of the story makes the hopeful parts shine brighter, which is a perfect metaphor for the novel’s main themes — that it is variation that makes humanity human, that not only does light not exist without dark nor happiness without sadness, but that without a counterpart, everything good becomes its own opposite. In the absence of sadness, happiness becomes sadness in the form of numbness. In the absence of struggle, triumph is rendered null and becomes a struggle of its own. In the absence of imperfection, perfection is just boring and becomes (like imperfection) something to strive away from rather than toward. At least, that’s what I got from this novel, possibly because I needed to find a way to be grateful for the plumbing problems in my house… Without this problem, home ownership wouldn’t make me feel so badass? Yeah, let’s go with that. Read Brave New World, maybe you can find a way to be grateful for the variation in your life too.
All that said, this novel reinforces one of my political stances. The job of public schools is to make kids love to read. This is a great book, and I sincerely appreciate it. If we ever meet at a party, this book will keep me talking for a good fifteen minutes, more if you’re as nerdy as me, but I’m an adult with a yen for literary history. Our curriculums should feature books that are easier for the modern teenager to love and easier for the modern teacher to make engaging and thought-provoking. There are dystopias available now that bring up the same questions and are far more accessible and relatable to people who are teenagers now.