Yes, Fahrenheit 451 is a cornerstone of dystopian literature, and an effective argument against censorship... but couldn’t it be a good book, too?
The story takes place in a not-too-distantly futuristic society where entire rooms are converted into television screens, people are even more passively ambivalent to issues than they are today, and, oh yeah, the job of the “firemen” is now to start the fires, rather than stop them. Books are illegal, you see—all books—so if you’re suspected of having any of them stashed away… well, you’re going to get a visit from the firemen.
Our protagonist, Montag, is one such fireman who develops an affinity for the books he burns, and the story basically follows his struggles to make a difference in this world where no one really cares anymore.
Well, this book was certainly a disappointment. I don't know, maybe my expectations were too high going into it? But there are some pretty serious flaws with this “cornerstone of dystopian literature”:
(WARNING: BELOW THIS LINE LIE SPOILERS AND ANGER-CAPS.)
This review is for my second read of this book; I read it first in 2010. Loved it again, though I noticed a few flaws now that I didn’t then—of course, relieved of the suspense, I could dwell more on the actual writing. Still, there was much of literary merit in the book, as well as the enjoyable tale I remembered.
The story takes place in an alternate-universe France, following Phèdre, a young woman trained first at a highly-respected pleasure-house and later at the knee of a political intriguer. From the beginning, though, she is marked out from the other courtesans-to-be by a mote in her eye—the touch of the angel of pain, and a sign that she is an “anguissette,” one who derives pleasure from pain. As she comes of age and begins taking assignments, collecting information from her clients via pillow-talk and delicate manipulations of their emotions, she becomes steadily more embroiled in the conspiracies and machinations surrounding her country’s elite—and when the time comes that she knows too much, she (and her reluctant bodyguard) finds herself the target of more pain than she signed up for.
It is an easy thing, I think, for a book containing BDSM sex scenes to fall either into the "mindless erotica" or "rape glorification" categories of trash. (For example, A.N. Roquelaure/Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy I would call "mindless rape glorification".) This book, however, is resoundingly neither of those literary sins. It is far from being mindless or, I'd argue, even erotica—the sex scenes are not nearly as explicit as one might expect, and are far overshadowed by the intricacies of the novel's many plots and subplots. And, though there is nonconsensual intercourse, the main character's reaction to it is to be thoroughly repulsed, even as her masochistic nature leads her to feel pleasure in it. In this way, as in others, the book walks a fine line, but manages to maintain a steady moral compass.
Sorry, Brandon Sanderson -- I've loved everything else of yours that I've read, but this one couldn't even inspire me to finish it.
And that's despite the fact that it's a middle-grade* novel that would only take a couple hours of dedicated reading to get through.
On paper (this is secretly a pun, because it has a drawing-based magic system), this book should have been awesome. An academy setting, fascinating alternate-history worldbuilding, and a Brandon Sanderson Magic System (TM)? What's not to love?
This book is sharply different from any I would normally read, but I picked it up because a writing teacher claimed that it was her favorite, and that the novel I was working on reminded her of it—she wouldn't tell me how or why, only that I needed to read it for myself. So now I have, and I do see the resemblance, though I'll not go into it overmuch here.
Revolutionary Road is a very honest look at married life in the suburbs in 1950s America—certainly the best of that type I've ever read, though that would say a lot more if I'd ever read another book on the topic. The setting was, unsurprisingly, similar to that of Lolita, and the characterizations reminded me of those in Catcher in the Rye—except, where Holden Caulfield is a whiny, narcissistic phony of a slacker student, Frank Wheeler is a self-conscious, narcissistic phony of a slacker office worker. Not to mention the fifteen-year age difference. But that is neither here nor there.