Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury has been languishing on my book shelf for over 40 years and this month it is the book selected by my U3A reading group so I have finally read it. The copy of Farenheit 451 I have read, via the library service (leaving my own in pristine condition), is the 50th anniversary edition published in 2008 by Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins. It has an introduction and afterword by the author and is available from all good book sellers and by following publisher links.
The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The Classic novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 is part of the Voyager Classic series. It stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, forty years on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.
My review of Farenheit 451
In an inverted world where firemen burn books (and people) instead of saving them, an encounter with Clarisse changes Guy Montag’s perspective on life and truth.
It’s quite difficult to convey what an outstanding read Farenheit 451 is and equally difficult to review it without being derivative. I adored every word. The prose is taut, affecting and beautiful. At times it is like reading a horror story with mechanical dogs that never fail to kill their target and at others reading Farenheit 451 is like encountering the most stunning poetry. I even found myself copying out lines and arranging them as poems to see the effect. I also selected a quotation to be used at my funeral (though I’m hoping I won’t be needing it for a few decades yet!); ‘Stuff your eyes with wonder… live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.’
The characterisation is amazing given the brevity of the novel. Clarisse is a catalyst for the action of the novel, and just the smallest word or action conveys the most intimate detail about those in the story. The relationship between Montag and his wife is sad, not unexpected and utterly heartbreaking. But it was the character names that enthralled me. I am certain Clarisse is so named because she is bright, clear and shining, that Guy Montag is Guy to be a possible Everyman and Montag is the start of the week – Monday in German – so that he is seen as the start of a change in the world. I’m sure Faber must have been named after the publishers of some of the most prestigious writers we’ve known. It was these small details and the snatches of half-remembered quotation from my own reading history that really drew me into the novel.
What stunned me about Farenheit 451 was the frightening potential of its contents. The intrusive screens in our homes, the way it can be a battle to get people to read, our disregard for life and property – themes that, whilst written about in 1953, resonate with modern society. But what I loved most was the sense of hope. There are Fabers and Clarisses in the world and we do have humanity and books.
I can’t believe my own copy of Farenheit 451 has remained undisturbed on my shelf for all these years. I urge you to read it if you haven’t already, or re-read it if you have. It’s incredible.
There is more about Ray Bradbury on the official website.