Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

My grandmother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. Inside the cover she wrote: Merry Christmas 2016. I look forward to trying one of your cakes! What puzzled me was not how she mistook a dystopian novel for a cookbook (the cover art on this edition was a man in a helmet throwing books into an incinerator—Nan’s fuzzy vision may well have interpreted it as a baker putting a cake into an oven. Plus there is a temperature printed right there at the top), but why she wanted to give me a book of dessert recipes in the first place. My only guess is that she got my card mixed up with the one for my cousin, Emilie, who was an aspiring chef. That would also explain why Em received a pocketknife engraved with my initials. It doesn’t matter—I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451.

In a technologically advanced but emotionally shallow future, where unorthodox thought is considered trouble and people are encouraged to spend their days in front of wall-to-wall television screens, Guy Montag is one of those charged with keeping order. He is a fireman—not the kind that puts out fires (that profession has long been unnecessary), but one who lights them. His fires destroy the source of many of the world’s evils: books. Some chaos is injected into his life when he meets a girl with a dangerous habit of free-thinking, who sows seeds of doubt in his mind. After learning of her disappearance, and then witnessing an old lady die with her hoard of books rather than see them destroyed by firemen, Guy is attacked by conscience and curiosity. We learn he has his own small cache of books, and now, with lethal risk, he begins to read. He finds an ally in an old former English professor who gives him hope for the existence of more like-minded people. Guy’s secret is not as hidden as he thinks, and soon he must respond to a fire alarm—at his own house. In an entertaining climax, the disillusioned fireman must choose: re-pledge his allegiance to the system by disavowing his books and burning his home, or go rogue and run for his life.

Ray Bradbury jumps straight into the action, and then drops breadcrumbs of information along the way. The reader can then infer what’s been happening and where the characters are at, without much backstory. The events take place over a relatively short period of time, but are significant enough to paint a picture beyond that. This efficient storytelling technique is effective, and second only in brilliance to Bradbury’s inclusion of a sinister mechanical spider-dog.

I love a good dystopian novel. Part of the fun is seeing the author’s predictions of the future. In this one, Bradbury foresees a world of people capitulating to pleasure, leisure and entertainment. Critical thinking is traded in for comfort and fun: folks are willing to pay the price of ignorance as long as it buys them bliss. And the televisions are enormous. Today’s love of technology, and outrage at opposing ideas, makes me think old Ray was on to something. He was right about the T.V.s. I saw one in a shop last week—eighty-six inches. Crazy.

Fahrenheit 451 is easy to read, thought-provoking and tense. If you weren’t afraid of syringe-wielding, eight-legged robot tracker dogs before, you will be after reading this book. 8/10

 

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