eteaket May Book Group
For the May meeting of eteaket’s book group, we delved into Science Fiction – here’s Mark MacLeod’s review of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:
The option was Science Fiction and a list of authors and titles were suggested, I went for Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a ‘classic’ example written in 1953, by an author who is living in the USA under the beginning of the Cold War. This was the year Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne and when colour television became available for the (well off) family home.
Guy Montag is a fireman in the future whose job is to burn books – and people if they object – on behalf of the state because books are outlawed and considered to be unnecessary due to the new ‘parlour’ in every house. Although never described, its reference left me with the idea of a talking wall that was bringing thousands of messages and programmes into the house from a central authority. Given the book’s timing and the increasing opportunity for every home to have a television set this is not such a leap of fiction, however Bradbury’s assertion was that the telly would replace the book. One speech in the book covers how all classic books have been summarised and shortened to be a short phrase or sentence! How would that be possible for any book you have read this year?
After some encounters with ‘free-thinkers’ and a particularly grueling burning that involved an old lady setting fire to herself and her books before the fire service did, Montag began to question the purpose of his job, and wider existence. His fire chief Beatty is the opposing character and eloquently counters Montag’s surreptitious questions about the purpose of burning all the knowledge in books. Ironically, some classic novels are quoted and authors used by Beatty in his argument, which tells me the author was always going to be on the side of Montag.
After completing his disagreement with Beatty, Montag is made a fugitive and the ‘Hound’ – an elaborate robotic dog which carried a lethal injection – was dispatched after him and a helicopter is follows the pursuit live on the parlours’ of every resident in the city. Can I say again this was in 1953! Rather than spoil the ending I will say it was a little flatter than I would have liked, but there was definitely a strong hook round about a third of the way in to the book and I felt the crescendo of the chase very engaging. You may have noticed my amazement at the prescient thinking by the author having a live TV chase of a fugitive, even although live television was still barely born in 1953. Not only that, there are other ideas that have since appeared like the 24 hour banking (robotic tellers in book) and telephones that call your name rather than ring.
As a first read of science fiction in a long time I enjoyed this book and would recommend it as one that is relatively short, it does not introduce new names, planets and concepts beyond the book burning paradigm, and because of its age it is available through library and probably most second hand book shops. Oh! the 451 Fahrenheit refers to the temperature at which paper combusts, actually it is 450 Celsius but the firefighter which Bradbury asked got the scale wrong! Did I mention it was written the same year that Fleming wrote his first Bond novel, Sir winston Churchill won the Nobel prize for literature and the year that Watson and Crick discover the structure of DNA!!
As lots of things we’ve read recently seem to have an ‘end of the world’ feel to them we’ve decided to lighten things up a little for June by going for Chic Lit vs Boy Lit. The choice is either How to be Good by Nick Hornby or My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. The idea is that the ladies read Nick Hornby and the gents read Jodi Picoult so we can get some different perspectives. Watch this space – and remember if you want to join us just email erica at email@example.com