Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Published by: HarperCollins
Publishing date: 2008
Original publishing date: 1953
Sinopsis: 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.
"Fahrenheit 451" tells us the story of a fire-fighter named Montag, who meets his neighbour after getting home from work, a charming girl who makes him rethink his whole life... but not because he is falling in love with her, but because he will start a forbidden relationship with books. And in Montag’s society, books are forbidden, among many other things, and fire-fighters are the ones in charge of burning them (along with the houses that contain them).
In fact, 451 are the exact Fahrenheit degrees to which the paper stars to burn. Hence the title of the book... don’t you thinks that’s quite clever?
But let's go bit by bit… I must admit that at the beginning it was difficult for me to get into the futuristic society created by Bradbury, because I didn’t quite fully understand the way they lived. Little by little, though, I plunged into the story.
Trailers from the movie adaptations of 1966 and 2018
The novel can be quite slow paced because Montag is going through a tough inner battle and the narrative is very introspective and descriptive. Also, I didn’t 100% empathize with the protagonist (sometimes I wanted to punch him!) because he is too impetuous and thoughtless... He even recognizes it, and that redeems him a little bit.
According to Bradbury, this book was born after he was convinced of turning some short stories that he had already written into a novel. As for me, "Fahrenheit 451" really feels like it’s a short story with “filling”, the beginning of a series and/or a long introduction. However, I like the ending, as it is open and closed at the same time and allows the readers to imagine the future they prefer.
The reflections made at the end, along with those from the old and wise Faber, are what I have enjoyed most of the book. I think that, despite only knowing Bradbury through this book and some of his quotes, I would have got along fine with him. He was a book lover, and said glaring truths. As he said, it won’t be necessary to burn books if people decide to stop reading by themselves...
In fact, although there are Beetle cars in the book (you never know, fashions always end up coming back XP), the futuristic world of "Fahrenheit 451" couldn’t be more up-to-date. Living sucked by giant screens filled with people you don’t know at all but you consider close friends... doesn’t that remind you a bit of the internet? Well, let’s now remember the book was written in 1954!
But this is not the novel’s only prophetic fact. Montag's society is grey and uniform, partly because the authorities try to silence everyone who excels and thinks for himself. People only vote politicians for their appearance and aren’t even aware of the terrible consequences of the horrific wars that surround them. They try to forget and turn a blind eye to everything that worries them or makes them unhappy, but doing so they are even more miserable and keep making the same mistakes from the past.
p. 208 «There was a damn silly bird called Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same things, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation. […] And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddam steam-shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up.»
An original, funny and very close way of analizing the book
What I also like about "Fahrenheit 451" is that despite being an ode books, it doesn’t idealize them at all:
p. 111 «After all, when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the highest cliff to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. […] The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for the shore.»
I must admit that (do forgive me) I've underlined a lot of my favourite paragraphs (with pencil, I’m not a monster, though!). I would go on and insert more quotes, but you'd better discover them all by yourselves.
I’m really pleased with the English copy I have, because it includes Bradbury's prologue from the 50th anniversary of the book, and it explains curious facts and reflections on some characters that help to understand them better while you read. Bradbury himself says:
p. 4 «In the years of writing my two-act play and the opera that followed, I let my characters tell me things about their lived that were not in the book. I have been tempted to go back and insert these truths in the old text, but this is a dangerous practice which writers must refuse. These truths, while important, could ruin a work done years before.»
You could take good note of that, Rowling, huh? ¬¬
The end, though, is undoubtedly my favourite part of the book, as it becomes really exciting, moving, mind-boggling and shocking... in a word... Terrific! The narration puts you in Montag’s shoes and you can imagine the whole situation so perfectly that it makes your hair stand on end... It really shocked me.
So you know, let yourself be seduced by this science fiction classic, just as when we can’t help but looking at the hypnotizing dance of the flames in a bonfire.