I'm not ashamed to say that I like immediate gratification. Even when I've enjoyed a book on the top 100, I usually can't say I've enjoyed the first two pages. Let's face it, Literature isn't known for grabbing you right away. Yes, there are exceptions. No, there aren't a lot. So I picked this up, ready to "just get through" the first couple of pages and see if I liked it afterwards. And I was blown away. From the beginning.
Within the first two pages, we meet a complete bastard, and everytime we think "Okay, he's a complete bastard" we find out more information that makes him a completer bastard, AND (and this is the cool part) AND it is told from his perspective and he doesn't think he is a bastard AND (and this is the cooler part) his process of rationalizing his bastardity and actually resenting the victim is a very ugly thing that I recognized in myself. I'm not like that all the time, but it is an ugly part of me that well "Here it is, served up on a plate for you," and we are only on page four! I've resented the victims of my own misdeeds before. Have you?
Walter's mistress, who lives with him since he got her to leave her husband, wants him to stay with her tonight, but is afraid to ask, so she only asks that he not come home late from the party he is going to. And we find out he is going to the party to flirt with another woman he is crushing on. And he feels guilty. And then he gets mad at his mistress for making him feel guilty. And then he thinks that she's gotten dull because she is always obsessed with being with him, whereas she used to have a job. And then he remembers that he made her quit the job. That makes him feel guilty. And that makes him feel madder at her for making him feel guilty. And he is madder at her because he knows he shouldn't be mad at her. Page four, middle: "But there was the baby."
I'm not telling it well, because I am not a gifted author like Huxley. Walter leaves, and then we embark on a book where we meet the biggest collection of awful people you could imagine, each one of whom does not think s/he is an awful person. (One exception. One guy knows what a prick he is. But he rationalizes it away.)
Although if you look at each sentence, you can be convinced that the author is the usual objective, nonjudgemental narrator, you soon realize that the author hates the holy hell out of these people. So you are reading about some ass, from HER perspective (she doesn't think she is an ass), and yet it is clear that the author writing from her perspective thinks she is an ass. Incredible. I found myself savoring every page of this book, not wanting it to end. The author hates: people who like science, people who dislike science, people who are ignorant of science, people who are romantic, people who are pragmatic, people who are religious, people who are not religious, Atheists, Christians, emotional people, non-emotional people, and I'm sure I'm missing some. None of the hate is expressed as a blatant phrase you can pin on Huxley - it is all reeking from between the lines, and often between the words themselves.
I'd occasionally be reading the views of some character I agreed with, and going "yes, yes, yes" and then Huxley would subtly trash him, and I'd think, "Hey, Wait!" It was jarring. But in a good way. Once I got used to the fact that yes, Huxley would probably hate me, too, I was able to not be jarred any more.
I didn't pay attention to the author's name when picking this one up, and then I made the link during one of the jarring moments. Brave New World jarred me in that way, but only after I had finished it. "Yes, yes, that book is so right. Technology is bad and sex should be repressed and gratification is always best delayed. HEY! WAIT!" This book has a similar morality, but it is much more blatant. One flaw - all these people make speeches about their ideas all the time. I LIKED that, but it wasn't realistic. I still forgave him.
And here is the coolest bit of all, that I didn't know until I was 2/3 of the way through, and Lap read the preface. The book was about real people. Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, and all his other friends. He, himself is in the book, and he is two characters. Two of the most hateful ones of all! And at one point, one of the Huxley characters writes in his notebook: "I'm going to write about me and my friends, and all our ideas, and even though real people don't go around talking like that, I'm sure my readers will forgive me." He let the cat out of the bag in that journal entry, talking about stylistic devices he was going to use, that had been used in the book we were in the act of reading. A wonderful bit of meta-fiction in 1928.
Dear God, this guy hates himself and his friends. For serious.
The plot of this book is similar to the last top100 book I read, Dance to the Music of Time. A bunch of rich people poncing about being described, having affairs, and chattering at parties. All I can say is that Huxley made the process grab me by the soul in a way that Powell did not. If you like books about ideas and awful people that show you ugly sides to your own personality and ideas, this is a good one to pick up. There is no doubt in my mind it is one of the best novels of all time.
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