Book Review - Fahrenheit 451 (Spoilers - Beware)

In the era leading up to McCarthyism Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 - Actually, that's not strictly true, he wrote The Pedestrian, The Fireman, Bonfire and Bright Phoenix. Which were all short stories, most of which were refused publication by any of the then-current magazines.

Then in 1950 he had a moment of inspiration and wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days. (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature that paper burns).

For those of you unaware of this seminal tale, it is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman, who lives in a dystopian future where firemen now burn books as they are illegal. Or as the blurb says on the back - The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future...

I have just finished this book and I am a tad disappointed. As the fiftieth year anniversary issue, it has a forward and afterword, by Bradbury where he talks about where his inspiration came from and what he would change.

My disappointment lies in his thoughts that he wouldn't change a thing. The book is of its time, it sounds like a 1950's film (it was first published in 1953). Some of the future ideas are interesting, for example, the living room is just full of screens, with TV series personalised for the watcher and advertisements constantly infiltrating everything. Similarly, the ear seashells which are like earbuds.

But only men really have a voice and the women are depicted as non-working, addicted to their screens, pill-popping idiots. Would he not change anything about the women? Really?

I think it just highlights how far we have come in the last seventy years, but reading it as a modern woman I found it more shocking than anything else within the story. Especially as most of the marriage bars* for women had been lifted during the great depression and the second world war in America, and although many jobs for middle and upper-class women were seen as 'beneath' them prior to the second world war, after the war this attitude had changed (although not all together).

Ironically, this book has been banned a couple of times in America, largely by schools in middle America. This has been because of the word abortion, and general vulgarity (Montag says 'damn' a couple of times).

Don't get me wrong, it is a quick and simple read, yes there is an overuse of metaphors specifically about burning, which Bradbury points out in the forward (again, he wouldn't change that either). Which when you have been told about, you can't unsee. But other than that it is a well-written book. It has a nice sense of pace and structure and a claustrophobic feel as Montag struggles with his feelings about books.

Montag's emotional unrest is worsened by Fire Chief Beatty trying to influence his thinking whilst quoting vast numbers of books, implying that books just cause confusion of thought and emotion.

In the end, there is a chase and a mechanical monster called the Hound paralyses a victim (they need a stooge as they haven't caught Montag so use another person so an example is set) and everything finally ends with a massive explosion as the city Montag has lived in is blown up because of a war that has been rumbling in the background of the storyline. It is all very Boys Own.

It is hardly surprising this was first serialised by Hugh Hefner in his new magazine - Playboy.

In conclusion, this is a well written but dated novel which has been written for men, by a man about a man. Why would we women want to worry our silly little heads about all this book nonsense?

*Marriage Bars - women were not allowed to work in some jobs after marriage, or if their husbands worked at the same office.

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  1. Thanks for this review. Whilst I’m sure I’d find the same things irritating that you did, you’ve made me want to read this book. I can’t believe I haven’t read it already. I’m very surprised Bradbury wouldn’t change anything, unless it’s because he’s moved on so far from it, that there would be too much to change. He might not want to admit that.


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