Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns, which makes it a fitting title for this science fiction novel about a man whose job is burning books. The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman, as he struggles to make sense of his unease in a world that is so obsessed with being happy that it is incapable of realising how miserable it is.
Large sections of this book disturbed me deeply. There are many elements that only remain science fiction rather than science fact because no one has thought to commercialise them yet. I shudder to think of what might happen to our world if watching television meant being surrounded by it and having it call us by name. I hope I would share Montag’s horror, but I can also think of many people who would slide happily into Mildred’s unthinking delight.
This is a world where politicians are elected based on their looks instead of their skills. A war is fought without any of the citizens particularly noticing or caring. Marriages are hollow, and having babies by caesarean section is an effective way to minimise the inconvenience of childbirth. Sound familiar? The parallels between the fictional world and the real one are horrifying.
The main conflict in this book plays with the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. Anything that could potentially offend a minority is objectionable, and over time the cultural ideas in books have fallen foul of that perspective. They have been outlawed because they do nothing but cause misery and conflict. The logic is twisted in its simplicity, a million real world concepts stretched to their ultimate destination.
If you are looking for a book that will challenge your thinking about how you live your life, Fahrenheit 451 rightly claims its status as a classic for this reason. Sitting back and turning off your mind is difficult after reading this. If you’re already feeling depressed, this book might be one to steer clear off until you’re a bit more emotionally stable.
Occasionally the writing style gets in the way of the story, but I suspect this is from shifting fashions rather than a failing of the novel. It will probably distract some readers, but the story is worth finishing. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.