Overall Impression: A mesmerizing book of ideas and what-ifs, set in a dreary, heartless future.
Whoa, this was one amazing book.
I had no idea what to expect from Fahrenheit 451 when I picked it up, other than that it was a novel about burning books and was generally held in lower esteem than its dystopian rival, 1984. When I spotted the novel last summer looking battered and lonely in the sci-fi section of a second hand bookshop I couldn’t help but adopt it. It had clearly been mistreated and needed a new home. The spine was torn, the pages orange with age and reeking of must, yet oddly it added to its charm. It almost seemed as if the novel had been through the same hardships that had occurred in the story, that it had come a little too close to being incinerated in its lifetime and was now a scarred casualty of war.
Yeah, I know, I have an overactive imagination right?!
This book was also read as part of The Rory Gilmore Challenge.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house?
The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
While I can easily say that Fahrenheit 451 is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, it’s also one of the weirdest and to begin with I had no idea what to make of the whole thing! From the first page you are thrust into the deep end, there’s no explanation of how the bizarre world came about nor any clues about its rules, you’re left to puzzle it out and don’t get many answers until your half way through the story. While this could be frustrating to some, in the end the book is far more fascinating and compelling because of it!
I will happily admit I struggled with Fahrenheit 451 at first. It’s not the easiest classic to read and it took me a while to acclimatize the Bradbury’s bizarre writing and it’s odd, almost hallucinogenic dream-like quality. He has a strange style that it somewhat vague and scattered, it almost felt like I kept grabbing for something just out of reach. He’s the master of showing rather than telling and would often elude or hint at things so subtly that I had to work hard and concentrate while reading to make sure I was understanding what he was saying. Often I would reread sentences four or five times, mulling and thinking about what they meant. Bradbury has the rare skill of being able to say a lot by not saying much at all and within the first chapter I was amazed at his ability to build such a unique world in only a few pages. As the novel progressed I slowly began to warm to his style, and by a third of the way through I was full on in love with it! While reading I often like to pick out insightful quotes, and with Fahrenheit 451 it got the point where I wanted to mark every page and paragraph desperate to preserve each word.
Bradbury has created a dreary and hollow world where firemen start fires rather than stop them, where books are burnt and people don’t seem to talk to each other, suicide has become a normal, everyday thing and billboard advertising is two hundred-foot-long because cars go so fast that they wouldn’t see it otherwise. It’s a bizarre setup and sounds random, but once you delve into the book it all starts to fit together.
I think at its heart, Fahrenheit 451 is a book of ideas and what-ifs. It’s about the fear of technology and where it will lead humanity. Will it replace free thought? Will we all becomes slaves to TV sitting around all day to the point where we become so passive – in life and as TV viewers – that we can no longer remember what we watched five minutes ago? With current research on the decrease of our attention spans it doesn’t feel like a big reach. Could we ruin the heart and soul of our planet through attempting to simplify everything with technology, to the point where we don’t have to try at anything in life, and life, therefore, becomes pointless? It all seems a little too possible, and that’s what is so eerie and unsettling about this book.
Fahrenheit 451 also tackles censorship and explores how the world might crash down around us without books; not necessarily because of the objects themselves but what they represent, the way they create and provoke thought, how they represent emotions and reflect the world’s flaws. I must admit the idea that the world might go kapluiee without books was a somewhat irresistible concept to a bookworm like me, and it’s probably one of the reasons I loved this novel so much. I also feel one of the themes in this intentional or not, was the loss of meaning, especially the semantic meaning we attach to words and I found that really interesting.
This is not what I would call a character driven novel, the characters are interesting but more because of the plights and realizations they go through as opposed to their personalities. There’s Guy Montag, occupational fireman who revels in the act of burning books until he meets someone who changes his entire thought process and makes him question the world he lives in. His wife, Mildred is a robot-like individual who does nothing but watch TV and even refers to the characters as her ‘family’. Then there’s Clarisse, a young girl who is wiser than her years and far too inquisitive and finally Faber, an ex English professor who laments the loss of books and feels guilty for not doing more to stop their demise. Combine them all and you’ve got a pretty interesting mix of beliefs, struggles and opinions on an oppressive society!
Fahrenheit 451 is like a bizarre snapshot of a world that could be, not everything is explained, it doesn’t have a particularly concrete resolution and after you’re finished it will feel like emerging from a strange dream. If you’re looking for a small but compelling classic that will challenge your every day thinking I would definitely recommend this! The writing is clever and super quotable, the plot is fast paced and thought provoking to the point where I didn’t want it to end. Most importantly, it’s a book that left me feeling inspired and charged with the energy to design and create something – anything, instead of sitting down and consuming it instead. Recommended to anyone 15+ :).
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!