Hello there, and thanks for visiting. I have always enjoyed science-fiction, but when I started this site, I wanted to try and understand its history and learn more about it. So, this year I plan on reading some classic science-fiction books that I have never read before. First up is Fahrenheit 451, and here are my first impressions of the book, so take out your seashells, turn off the parlor walls and phone the fire brigade because this review is going to get toasty.
Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury 1953, is both admired and contentious in popular culture. The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman who burns illegal books in a future society. After meeting his neighbour Clarisse, Montag becomes disillusioned with his current circumstances and seeks a new way of living. As his life unravels, he must choose where and what he wants to be. It certainly has had some positive recognition, winning the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal in 1954. In later years it also won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1984 and the Retro Hugo Award in 2004. Bradbury was also recognised by the Grammy’s with a nomination for the 1976 audio version of the book. However, the book is not without controversy, becoming involved in some censorship issues throughout the years. Fahrenheit 451 has been banned, censored and redacted in some schools. The story contains offensive language descriptions of burning of the bible and murder. Not bad for a book that had been written and completed in nineteen days, on a rented typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s library.
First of all, before I get started, I would like to point out that I understand what Ray Bradbury was trying to say about censorship and other themes within the story. However, I knew nothing about this book before I started it and just wanted to discuss what I felt about it after reading it for the first time.
I should talk about the story first, and I will admit, it just filled me with anxiety most of the book. I’m not sure if that is just my view of this society or the story is supposed to feel that way. It’s a unique idea, but nearly all of the main characters in the story seem to be mentally ill? Okay, I understand that a world without books could make people docile, but these characters don’t even have empathy, which is something I feel comes from simply reading the body language of others. Guy Montag, the protagonist of the story, seems to be looking for something meaningful, but his relationship with those around him is pretty dreadful, leaving him unlikable, unfortunately.
I seem to have hit a peculiar moment in this review because I do remember enjoying reading this book. However, I also read Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky afterwards. I think the character development and world-building in that story now reminds me how much this book lacks that depth! I did enjoy how Bradbury reminded me of a world full of noise and distractions, but it never felt like the real reason for Montag’s misery in life.
This story looks intriguing when you look at something as cool as the cover above. However, I couldn’t connect with Montag or at least have some sympathy for him. Instead, I just noticed a man who is desperate for answers, who made the wrong decision, time after time. Okay, maybe he is a product of his job and surroundings, but I never felt that. It would have been good to learn more about Mildred and have her character explain why she is unhappy. Guy’s friendship with Faber is out of necessity, and still, he ignores the advice from him and does what he wants. I guess it all comes down to Montag setting fire to Captain Beatty! That murder is pretty brutal, and there can be no justification for it.
I get it, a society that doesn’t care for its people, the talk of war and no one caring about its importance. I also understand Guy’s desperation in the situation he finds himself in. I also get that this newfound friendship with his neighbour Clarisse could make him a little crazy. Maybe I could have lost the message in the prose, but it was only the prose that helped create some beautiful imagery in this dark situation. Also remember, I come to this book for some science-fiction and apart from a few predictions about the future, it still feels like the 1950’s somehow.
“The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers.”
Plus, the ending felt pretty rushed, to be honest. Montag escapes the city, and it’s bombed afterwards, leaving him and his new friends covered in dust. It’s like something from a cartoon. Eventually, Guy walks off his new clan and becomes a wondering intellectual exile, who will learn to memorise books to preserve their content; and a murderer, let’s not forget that. It feels like some dark fairy-tale, and when I think about it like that, I can enjoy it a little more.
I can understand that some people love this book, and I wanted to feel that way about it. It did make me appreciate the freedom we have in life. However, I enjoy nature and the simple things in life anyway, but it’s easy to be distracted by social media, television etc. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the story gets lost with the motives of Guy Montag for me. I also think that Bradbury misses the point about humanity. Yes, we can have intellectual intelligence, but emotional intelligence is far more important, and it seems barely visible in this story. I can’t believe that people would lose that intuition.
I said earlier that this review would be toasty. Instead, it turned out to be lukewarm. I didn’t love the book or hate it. It just turned out to be a little one dimensional compared to Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four, however unfair that is. Have I thought about it enough, or am I too dumb to understand it? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do feel terrible criticising a book by an author who was probably far more intelligent and successful than I will ever be. All I can give you is my honest opinion. I admire Ray Bradbury for writing this book so quickly, and it then having the impact on popular culture that it did. That is the real positive from this story, believe in yourself! I started this review and had to walk away for a few days because of some of the issues I had with it. I could have deleted it and then started something new, but I will just let it become whatever it is. I realise I need to start having more confidence in my reaction to these stories. I always try to be positive, but there was just something about this story that was a little too dark for me and not in a good way.
Thank you for reading. What do you think about Fahrenheit 451? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.