Although I love writing I simply have to be reading at least one book that I can pick up at any given moment. I try to read a range of books, all types of fiction, biographies and, in particular, history. Over the years I’ve read some brilliant novels, some of which have inspired me in my own writing, others whose stories I cannot shake years after reading them. Compiling a list of my favourite books has proven a tall order but I have come up with what are currently my Top Ten Novels. I’ve stuck with fiction for this list as I may produce a similar one for non-fiction books I have had the pleasure of reading in the near future. The wonderful thing about books is I never tire of trying to find new masterpieces. I love the ten featured here but I wouldn’t be disappointed if ten more great novels came along that bettered them, though I think it’s unlikely to happen to all of these titles.
Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (1932)
As frightening as they are, I do love reading dystopian novels having enjoyed Orwell’s 1984, no.6 in this Top 10, and most recently Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. While 1984 is probably the most famous of the dystopian novels my personal preference for the best book in this area is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Written in the early 1930s Huxley’s vision of the future, like Orwell’s, has some elements that are likely to come true given the direction modern society is heading.
The novel is set in London in AD 2540 but time in this society is known as A.F. (After Ford, as in Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company) so the year is actually A.F. 632, or 632 years after the introduction of Ford’s first Model T in 1908. Ford’s efficiency in manufacturing large quantities of cars on their busy production lines is an idea adopted by the World State that controls the advanced society of Brave New World. There are no marriages, parents, relationships or emotional ties here. Children are manufactured in labs, divided into groups and grown with specific roles and careers already pre-determined by their genetic structure. Opposition to such ways of life is taboo and there is little danger of rebellion as everyone is happy. To avoid stress and anxiety the population, kept to a strict limit to ensure continued supply of resources, are given soma pills, which induce hallucinogenic effects without any damaging impact on the user. These drug induced experiences keep the population happy and loyal to the World State. Socialising is imperative, isolation and solitude are forbidden. Casual sex is also encouraged with those not practicing promiscuity frowned upon by the powers that be. Vanity has no place in this world so it is unusual for sexual advances to be refused and the population happily indulge in orgies without the threat of unwanted disease or pregnancy. As always with this type of novel there is a fly in the ointment of what is supposed to be a utopian society.
The fly in question is Bernard Marx who is something of a loner and has no friends save Helmholtz Watson who joins Bernard in being critical of the World State. While Watson simply desires to be doing more, particularly writing poetry, and is frustrated by the restrictions bestowed by the World State, Bernard is simply struggling with his inferior physical appearance and though he lashes out at social activities and the other expected norms of society he would happily be indulging in them all if it wasn’t for his feelings of worthlessness. Bernard finds himself attracted to Lenina Crowne, a woman who is criticised for her lack of promiscuity despite being desired by many men. Lenina prefers to have sex with one man over many months rather than a different partner each night. However, Lenina becomes drawn to Bernard through both fascination and to prove that she can be as promiscuous as her critics claim she isn’t.
The small cracks in the society of Brave New World are augmented when Bernard tries to impress Lenina by taking her on a trip to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Here there are group of humans that defy everything the World State ordains. The savages are married, monogamous, wear dirty clothes and practice religious ceremonies. The idea that many of our current ways of life are depicted as savage in this future society is quite horrifying to read but is something I believe could become reality one day. Bernard and Lenina make a frightening discovery in the reservation. Linda, formerly of the World State, is living amongst the savages having been separated from the man who brought her here for a date and, through accidental misuse of contraception, is the father of her eighteen year old son, John. Bernard and Lenina bring Linda and John back to London where mother and son’s paths become very different.
While Linda is delighted to be back in the society she was born in with access to her beloved soma her son, John, is a continued outcast, having found no acceptance in the Savage Reservation. He now faces another unforgiving society watched over by the World State. At first he is something of a celebrity and his arrival prompts a new wave of popularity for Bernard who suddenly finds society is wonderful. While Bernard’s maladjustment diffuses into the utopian air, John struggles to adapt to the Brave New World he has been so eager to see having heard many stories from his mother. The rest of the novel traces John’s attempts to fit in and adapt to a new way of life. This is when Huxley’s book is at its most terrifying. With monogamous humans viewed as savage by the World State, John finds himself unable to live the sort of life he has known previously. In the Savage Reservation he was an outcast and in the World State he is in a similar position. John is constantly in limbo and his plight makes for a tragic read, particularly when he falls in love with Lenina who is also attracted to John but both want very different things from each other.
Huxley’s novel is very detailed and complex, particularly when describing the background to the World State. The earliest part of the book with the introductory segments will be the most challenging for many readers but having negotiated this part there is one of the great novels waiting just round the corner. This dystopian society is impossible not to picture in your mind, so precise and vivid are the images Huxley conveys on every page. That he can make a society akin to our own in the Savage Reservation seem more like a prehistoric land is a terrifying prospect. The human race is certainly advanced but this future society is far ahead of ours with human emotion almost subdued in favour of scientific and technological advancements. If you have read or are going to read 1984 then you really should read Brave New World as well. As dark as Orwell’s novel is, I think Huxley’s is by far the darkest dystopian novel I have ever read, particularly in its depiction of John’s struggles to understand this Brave New World, one that can be perceived to be better in advancements than previously but at the expense of humanity is far more repugnant than our currently flawed society.
Top Ten so far:
4) Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
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