Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

Rating: ★★★

The dust cover of my copy ambitiously proclaims this book to sit alongside Brave New World or 1984. As a matter of fact, it is next to Brave New World on my bookshelf, but that's a matter of category, not a testament to the value of the thing.

While Bradbury certainly picks a sympathetic angle for his dystopia (who else but readers would be horrified at book-burning?), his execution is quite poor - the exposition is clunky, the narrative is all over the place, and several plot elements seem almost childish.

To address the last of those; the concept of a book-burning squad, whose members are necessarily exposed to dangerous literature, is surely defensible under artistic license. The tenuous link to firemen (conveniently rendered obsolete in the book's history as houses were made fire-proof), however, smacks of an immature attempt at role-reversal. The mechanical hound creature's utility to the firemen was never really made clear, rendering it a threat introduced simply for what it was.

The book's central theme is delivered in a confusing manner by the central antagonist - the combination of a tone clearly denouncing the slide into anti-culturalism with a character who is defending it leaves you well aware that the speech was simply a mouthpiece for the author. Later attempts to portray that character as suicidal don't square with the rest of his demeanour, suggesting a quick and poor fix.

The narrative seems to skew as it goes on, with the section following the showdown at his house trailling off confusingly. The ending, with a nuclear bombing, seems over-convenient, and it's tempting to suggest that the events of several days in the book would be considered more plausible if spread over a number of years.

The three-star rating, then, is somewhat charitable. The book recovers points for its sentiment, which is easy to align with, the warning against a slide into censorship of the uncomfortable and book-burning being accompanied with an impassioned assault on television and superficiality in general. A somewhat flaky read, but with good heart.