I’ve been reading books about books for the last 30 years, so I thought I knew the storyline of most classics. But the surprises in this novel took my breath away.
Over and over again, I was stunned by Huxley’s perceptivity and prophetic power. How did he know that in the future “motherhood” would be a dirty word? How did he predict Viagara? And that promiscuity would be the new normal? Or that consumerism would be the driving force of future generations? He wrote this in 1931, for Pete’s sake!
In this new world all civilized men and women are sexually free, content in their social classes, and undisturbed by pain. The demise of conflict and suffering has brought on the demise of art and poetry because overcoming life’s obstacles is a primary source for the creation of greatness and beauty.
It’s a world devoid of pain partly because there is a pill one can pop to make it all go away.
And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now you can swallow two or three half-gram tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that’s what soma is. (from Chapter 17)
Into this world comes John, the Savage, who was raised away from civilization (where barbaric practices like marriage and chastity still exist). The only book he had as a child was a moth-eaten copy of Shakespeare’s plays, which enables him to counteract each astounding new discovery of the civilized world with a contrasting quote from Shakespeare. (These wonderful quotes will whet your appetite for more.)
I don’t want to spoil your reading pleasure by giving any more details. Be forewarned that this is not a “curl-up-by-the-fire-with-a-cup-of-tea” sort of book. It’s a frank look at the “perfection” of society at a terrible price: the destruction of family and freedom. Easily the most powerful book I read in 2013.