Open Week Guest Review: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Today’s guest review comes courtesy of Caleb at Acerbic Writing, who deserves many thanks for sending this review of a sci-fi classic – and it’s a very thoughtful review, to boot. I found myself in agreement, but what do you think? Read on!

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Published: 1953

“’Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.’”

Book cover synopsis:

Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future.

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

This book is a classic deserving of the space every English class can provide. It is meant to be analyzed. It is meant to show the power of censorship and idiocy our modern age shows more and more often. I would argue that it is not solely meant to be read for pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong. The first part of the book was amazing.
It had beautiful, stunning descriptions. They were amazing and surreal. The people that inhabited this dystopian world were peculiar, strange, and didn’t always make sense. But there was a beauty with that.

“It was like a great bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that overrich nectar and now it was sleeping the evil out of itself.”

The place was a truly stunning future, a dystopian no doubt, especially when all the paintings were abstract and all the books were burned for pleasure. Yes, this is the theme of the story, to not censor what we write, what we do. To not stifle enjoyment from long things such as a novel or movie.
This was no more shocking than in the realization that one book quoted to be banned, which hadn’t at the time, was Little Black Sambo. This novel has been banned, and shows the stark prospects of a future if we twiddle our thumbs down this path of censorship.
I felt that Bradbury showed me something when it came to reviews, that the fires that burned the things were essentially my opinions, my reviews. I can destroy a piece of literature, a writer’s soul laid bare on the pages, in miniscule sentences. It’s scary.

“’The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her  and leaver her for the flies.’”

And yet.
While the first part was amazing, the second, the middle, dragged tremendously. The prose switched from swathing descriptions to… Hard. Jarring. Paragraphs. That. Dealt. With. Dream. Sequences.
It went on for paragraphs, multiple times. It was confusing. It was annoying. I really disliked those parts. And when they happened, I scanned. Truthfully, I scanned quite a bit, and I don’t ever do that. I feel that if the author puts it in there, there’s a reason. I know, I’m weird. But when a book does that to me, there’s no excuse.
It’s slow.
I just barely managed to finish it, even for the short length. The ending, however, was remarkable. Was it enough to redeem itself? No, not at all. But it showed promise, made the experience better, made the thing a little more tolerable.
As I said, this is a book that should be analyzed, kept in class. If you like stiff, surrealistic stories in the middle, maybe this is for you. I at least didn’t connect with the past age of a future.

Rating: 6/10 OR 3/5 Stars

Caleb writes reviews at Acerbic Writing, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

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