Between shows, socialising and just, you know, doing life, July has been beyond busy. Which is why I’ve surprised myself by getting through two and a half books. Why half, you might ask… Well, aside from the two full books I read, which I’ll be telling you about in a second, I also started a book that felt so familiar I just couldn’t keep reading.
The (half) book in question was the aptly named Restless by William Boyd. Aptly named because this is exactly how I felt whilst reading it. Not because of the twisty turny plotline (although it has that too) but because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d read it before. Maybe I have, who knows? But the more I read, the more I questioned whether I had indeed turned those pages already or I was just going through a case of some crazy vivid deja vu. Who knows? Anyway, if I remember (or fabricate) correctly, it is a decent book and well worth a read.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Onto things I definitely read, July’s first book was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Having read the other iconic prophesying novel, 1984, I was keen to see how the predictions matched up. It’s safe to say that neither Huxley nor Orwell seem to have had the highest hopes for the future of mankind so that’s fun.
Orwell’s future (which is now our past) seems to be much more explicitly dystopian; Huxley’s future world is more nuanced.
Huxley’s, I would argue is a “utopian dystopia” rather than an out and out hell hole complete with a room 101.
It’s a world where human connection – on an emotional level – doesn’t matter any more. Where art and culture are no longer a thing, because they are, more often than not, the manifestation of an unhappy society. Huxley’s is a world where people have clones, not family, and where each individual is bred and conditioned to perform one, and only one, function in society.
And, whilst the novel’s society are, on the surface, happy with their lot, the violence, segregation and constant repression of natural human emotion and instinct would suggest otherwise.
I know we’re not meant to judge books by their covers, but my copy’s cover definitely reminds me of war, more than anything else. Go figure…
There’s so much to say on this book (and so much that’s already been said) and I could 100% write about a million essays on it, but I won’t – if you want to read essays, there are plenty online already.
The Only Story – Julian Barnes
Beginning in the ’60s and taking us up to modern day, The Only Story, as the title may suggest, centres around one story, and one story only.
Barnes’ novel is a love story with a difference. Starting out as an idealistic relationship between two lovers that flies in the face of societal norm (oh, hey Romeo and Juliet), The Only Story perfectly demonstrates how love and loss define each and every one of our lives and stories.
The idealism of Part One is clear. Paul falls in love with Susan at the tennis club. He’s 19, she’s 48 – seems legit. Far from the classic “cougar” Susan is portrayed as an intellectual and emotional match for Paul. They both need each other on equal terms.
Told from Paul’s point of view, Part 1 begins in first person, as the narrator discovers himself through his relationship and clings to a classic teenage sense that the world revolves around him.
As the relationship (and Susan) physically deteriorate, the narrative slips away from a first-person account. Part 2 is told in second person (you, yours etc) as Paul begins to lose himself to something resembling codependence, which through the second person pronouns implicates the reader. Here, external figures are now involved, rather than being pushed away; the “Fancy Boys”, Paul’s university friends and Susan’s cynical friend Joan become more integral as the relationship begins to crumble and Paul finds himself resenting Susan. It seems like the “you” is a direct call to the reader to help Paul regain control and feel less alone in his failing relationship.
Part 3 commences in the third person. As Susan loses grip on reality, Paul loses his sense of self and becomes a wanderer. No longer able to trust himself to emotion and love, Paul becomes a “he”, an anonymous nomad with little ambition, who is both liked by many and totally alone. Susan’s dementia, alcoholism and lack of trust in him mean the end of the love story and a complete loss of self. It is only when Susan is finally committed to a mental hospital and sedated (has lost her own self) that Paul can say goodbye and move on with his life, symbolised by the return of the first person narrative.
I think this one is kind of a boring story – it’s been told before in various different guises. What makes it different, is the techniques through which it is told. With all the switching up in pronouns, it demonstrates how a relationship can become your “only story” and not just part of your story if you allow it to consume your life.