‘Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle.’
As ever this review will be defined by my ignorance as I knew very little about Brave New World or Aldous Huxley going in. After the first few chapters I assumed that Brave New World was an update on the quintessential dystopian novel, 1984. Not only did I later find out that Brave New World was published a full 17 years before 1984 but also that the parallels between the two aren’t as explicit as it seems.
As previously mentioned, 1984 presents a dystopian society ruled by brutal force and fear whereas London in 632 A.F. is actually more of a Utopia with the populace kept numb by drugs, sex and garish movies. In this respect it could be said that Brave New World represents the shallow, vacuous West and 1984 the strict, more regimented Communist countries in the East. Indeed Huxley was appalled by the American Dream and he imagines a world where Henry Ford has become some sort of deity to the people.
Brave New World is perhaps not as sinister as 1984, being satirical in a more comedic sense, but in the more emotive scenes, Huxley’s most famous work is just as affecting. The startling simplicity of Mustapha Mond’s explanation as to why modern man must be protected from conflict and culture brings to mind Milo Minderbinder’s description of how the syndicate works in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. The protagonist Bernard Marx meanwhile, mirrors the inferiority complex suffered by Golyadkin in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Double. This beautiful prose mixed with the absence of a likeable protagonist (until John enters in the third act), makes for a disorientating but rewarding read.
Aldous Huxley was a famous advocate of drug use and he pulls from his real life experiences when describing Soma and Mescal to devastating effect. The feeling of worthlessness he describes after Linda takes mescal is as close to the bone and accurate as anything written by Hunter S. Thompson or Irvine Welsh and this only makes an intriguing piece of work even more absorbing.
There is no greater compliment for a satire than for it to still feel biting and relevant nearly 90 years on, in this and in many other respects Brave New World is an unqualified success. As well as being hugely influential, it is also a page turner and an essential read.