In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury creates a world in which reading has been banned – instantaneously forcing me to imagine my worst fear and grabbing my attention from the very beginning.
In this world without books even thinking is strongly discouraged and, despite seeming to have an amount of free time I could only dream of, this time is filled with distracting but mindless activities so as not to allow any opportunity for thought to lead to questions. Bradbury takes the television of our day and age and transforms it into an all consuming passion – perhaps not a far cry from current society after all.
The main character of the book is a fireman, Montag, who doesn’t remember a time when firemen put out fires rather than starting them. His job is simple and enjoyable – he lights fires in houses where books have been found. Montag has spent ten years doing this job and thinking nothing of it. Until he meets Clarisse. She is seventeen and considered “odd”. Instead of driving around with other children, attacking and bullying one another, she spends her time thinking, watching people, and exploring the outdoors. Her curiousity and kind nature are infectious, and soon Montag starts to see the world around him in a different way.
“Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid.” Clarisse, pg. 30.
Montag starts questioning things – the strange “animal” at the firehouse, the inability of his wife to remember the tragic events of a particular night, and the worrying fact that neither of them can remember when or where they actually met. His strange behaviour is quickly noticed by his fellow firemen, and in particular the Chief, who has a startling knowledge of books for someone whose job it is to destroy them. He forms another unlikely friendship – with a “crazy” man he met in the park, one who is being watched by the police and firemen. This man, Faber, becomes his hidden support and mentor and teaches him how to understand what the words in the stolen books mean.
The path that Montag begins to follow is terrifying when you think about the consequences, and he reacts accordingly. This is one of the many areas where Bradbury’s writing style is both believable and gripping: the meltdown-like reaction and crazy outbursts that Montag responds with fit perfectly into the way any normal person should react to finding out that their world is censored to the point that almost everything is a lie. The calm and almost brainwashed reactions of his wife create a stark contrast and highlight even more just how impossible Montag’s situation is.
This book impressed me and has instantly become one of my favourites. It is written in a way which doesn’t explain everything, only gives you the basic details, and leaves you to slowly piece together what this future world is made up of.
I particularly liked the way in which Bradbury described books. In an interview included at the end of the novel, Bradbury talks about writing the book in a library, and how he used to get lost in the shelves just looking at all the books and enjoying being there. In Fahrenheit 451, his description of reading goes back to the simplicity of opening a book and enjoying the smell, the feel of the pages between your hands and the magic that comes, not from the books itself, but from the things the pages have recorded in them.
“Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” Faber, pg. 81.
I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. The only downside was that I felt like I got lost in the words a lot; sometimes having to re-read pages about three times before I felt like I had fully captured everything that was written there. This wasn’t entirely a downside – it was because the book was beautifully written with sentences that seemed to flow on forever, and once I had re-read them I was impressed with the lovely way it was written, and the almost-poetic style of Bradbury’s writing.
I gave it 4 out of 5 stars and it’s brilliance has forced me to buy five more of Bradbury’s books!