Book Review: Brave New World

In the not-too-distant future, genetic science and applied psychology have bred an ideal society. There’s no disease, no-one ages and everyone is perfectly content, conditioned to serve the greater World State. Everyone, that is, but Bernard Marx.

‘”How can I?” he repeated.

“No, the real problem is: How is it that I can’t?”‘

Similarly to Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is about an all-powerful state, that controls the behaviour and actions of the population to preserve its own stability and power. It is set in a futuristic London, where citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and indoctrinated into predetermined castes.

There are three main characters: Lenina Crowne, popular and sexually desirable, Bernard, a lower-caste man who is not popular nor desirable, and John the Savage, a man in exile because he was conceived and born naturally.

Each perspective reveals an aspect of this new world to the reader.

‘”You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it.”‘

Bernard is initially heroic, inwardly critiquing the regime and encouraging individuality of the self. Lenina is treated like a piece of meat, and doesn’t seem to notice or care because ‘every one belongs to every one else, after all’. That is, until she becomes confused by feelings of desire and attraction. John is horrified by the thoughts and actions of the citizens, whose sexually promiscuous, drug-induced, shallow and self-centred behaviour clashes with his own views.

Brave New World was really quite weird to read.

The first chapter opens on a tour around a Willy Wonka-esque factory, except it is not chocolate that is being manufactured, but humans. The unusual scientific jargon continues throughout the book, so it was difficult to follow everything that was happening.

The themes of control and consumerism are portrayed in a striking and unsettling way. Instead of faith systems, there is instead a high reverence for technology, sex, and drugs – known as Soma – which clouds citizens’ thoughts and memories to reinforce the belief that life is good.

‘”What you need, is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”‘

This is abundantly clear in the replacement of the name of God with the Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. As characters utters exclamations such as ‘My Ford’ and the ‘Year of our Ford’ – and it is no coincidence that ‘Lord’ and ‘Ford’ rhyme – this underlines the real issue of this new world; not that religion doesn’t exist, but that any free-thinking and all forms of belief have been eradicated and controlled by the state.

Brave New World has startlingly violent moments designed to shock, rather than satirise – particularly in the ending. I think it is one of the most horrific dystopian novels I’ve read.

I still don’t fully understand this book, but if you want to be horrified and intrigued by dystopian literature, I suggest you try Brave New World.

– Judith

 

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Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

At midnight, the famous Orient Express train is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, one of the passengers is dead – stabbed a dozen times. Isolated by a storm and with a killer onboard, detective Hercule Poirot must find the culprit.

The newest film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 murder mystery novel was released in UK cinemas in 3rd November 2017, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express]

I read Murder on the Orient Express for the first time around this time last year, and although I wrote notes, I never published a book review. However, after seeing the film adaptation last week, I thought it an appropriate time to revisit my notes and finally write a book review.

I really, really liked this book.

I haven’t read much by Agatha Christie, but I found her writing style surprisingly easy to read, which was a great way into the story.

Murder on the Orient Express is the first Poirot story I’ve ever read, though it’s the tenth published by Christie.

He is quirky and clever, drawing on stereotypes introduced by characters like Sherlock Holmes, such as the extraordinarily talented and secluded intellectual. Poirot, however, whilst he prefers solidarity, integrates with society in a polite and courteous manner and, to the best of my knowledge, does not struggle with an opium addiction. For these reasons, I enjoyed Poirot’s character more than Sherlock, and I liked reading Poirot work his way to conclusions.

I liked the mix of lots of characters, all trapped in one singular place, who all had different stories and personalities, and yet Poirot was able to find various connections between them in interesting and subtle ways.

Film Comment: I think this subtlety was lost somewhat when translated to the big screen, in the process of condensing the narrative into a just under 2-hour film.

My Photo [Murder on the Orient Express 2]

I thought the book was satirical, particularly in the interactions between Hercule Poirot, and his friend M. Bouc. This satire was carried across to the film, albeit in different ways.

In the book, Bouc is aware of the stereotypical methods of looking for clues, and subsequently thinks almost every object on the train is a clue. Undoubtedly, this is the approach the “untrained” mind – the mind of the reader – would take; Poirot satirises this with quips directed at Bouc, and instead leads the reader’s attention to the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant details, which are the most telling.

The final reveal of the culprit surprised me, challenging my own theories I’d created in my head and making me think in different ways.

Minor Spoiler: There was a reluctance to condemn the act of murder, because of the reason it was committed. I think murder is murder, and if we begin to justify some murder over others, regardless of intentions or motivations, it creates a risky, slippery slope of vigilante justice. Admittedly though, this frustration was admittedly drawn out more by the film adaptation.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I really liked the newest film adaptation as well; Branagh captured the character of Poirot well, and the cinematography was visually stunning. I recommend both!

News of a second Poirot film with Kenneth Branagh, an adaptation of Death on the Nile, is already spreading. If this is the case, I can’t wait to read Death on the Nile next.

– Judith

Book Review: Swallowdale

Swallowdale is the second book in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger return for another summer adventure, camping in the hills and sailing in the Lake District. However, when the explorers are shipwrecked; the Swallows and Amazons are left in a new place, to make a new camp and new expeditions.

I really enjoyed Swallows and Amazons but, unfortunately, Swallowdale took a little longer to engross me. I’m not sure why this was – perhaps my attention was initially lacking, or the story didn’t gather pace in a way I expected.

The style of Ransome’s writing is as witty and wholesome as it was in the first book – the rather random “voodoo” scene midway through Swallowdale is particularly ridiculous, but incredibly amusing.

I liked the settings of Swallowdale more than those of Swallows and Amazons. I think, given the shipwreck, the fact the child spent more time exploring on land as opposed to sailing helped me visualise surroundings more easily.

The descriptions were wonderfully vivid, and poetic in places too, reminding me (again) of the children’s adventure series The Famous Five – right down to the inclusion of both a “cave for a larder” and “bracken for bedding” (convenient).

I liked the introduction of new characters, as well as cameos of characters from the first book.

The conflict of Nancy and Peggy versus their Great Aunt, a woman averse to the idea of young girls with rough-and-tumble natures, touches upon the theme of gender I raised in my last review. Nancy and Peggy’s determinedness to have adventures with their friends, “despite” the fact they’re girls, is a great challenge to stereotypical expectations of girls at the time.

Whilst on the topic of characters, my love for Roger has increased enormously after reading Swallowdale. He is the smallest, sweetest, most boisterous (and most accident-prone) and I loved both seeing what he got up to, and watching Susan and the others keep a careful eye on him. I can’t wait to see him grow and develop throughout the rest of the series.

To echo thoughts from my first review, I think Swallowdale is a great sequel – it’s a fun, light, heart-warming read and I look forward to getting stuck into the next book in the series.

If you didn’t read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it.

If you did read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it again.

 – Judith