Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [audio]

Brave New World - Aldous HuxleyBrave New World – Aldous Huxley
Originally published in 1931

Audio narration by Michael York
BBC Audiobooks, 2007
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I’m sure I don’t really need to tell anyone what Brave New World is about, but for my own sake I’ll write it down anyway (feel free to skip the next paragraph). Also, spoilers ahead:

 Brave New World is about a futuristic dystopian society where babies are born in laboratories, conditioned for a certain kind of life, take soma as an anti-depressant, where no one is interested in culture, literature, or art, but only in instant gratification and sex without commitment, etcetera. The book consists of three parts. The first being an introduction to the basic workings of the society, and two main characters: Bernhard and Helmholtz, who both feel they do not completely fit into the new world order. The second part narrates Bernhard’s holiday at a savage reservation in New Mexico, where he and the woman he travels with meet Linda and her natural-born son (oh, the shame!) John (referred to mostly as “the savage”). Linda used to live in London, but didn’t dare return because of the shame of having become pregnant. The third part has Bernard bring Linda and John to London, where they become extremely popular as sights, before John, together with Helmholtz and Bernard (the latter half-heartedly) rebel and are brought before Mustapha Mond, the world controller of Western Europe, with whom they discuss the pros and cons of the current society.

So, I don’t know. I couldn’t love this, at all. I’m not even sure if I found it to be anything special [I know, the fault is all mine]. I’m still puzzling over the why though, why didn’t I enjoy this classic?

I have been trying to come up with reasons why my first reading of Brave New World did not work for me:

Reason the first: I am still getting used to audiobooks. And I wonder if it wasn’t reading this book in audio that made me feel more removed from the story and less able to enjoy it. At times, the narrative is very slow (especially when characters were having thoughts or making long speeches about their stance towards the society). I do enjoy audiobooks, but I do think I’m not comfortable enough with the format yet to enjoy all books in audio form. This may very well be one that just works better in print.

Reason the second: I feel that this book would have been perfect to discuss with people who are knowledgable on the content, the philosophy behind it, and the context in which it was written. Listening to this book I kept feeling that I probably *should* have opinions on all of this, there were glimmers of them here and there, a lot of interesting subjects came up (othering; mass-production vs. “culture”; the importance of a nuclear family (or not); the boundaries of freedom & instant gratification, etc.), but I often just didn’t know what to make of them. A classroom setting, as Buried in Print suggested in the comment section on Goodreads may have been a way in which I might have enjoyed this one more.

Reason the third: This may have been the book itself. The story just felt.. a little boring to me. I am nervous about telling you this because I know it is a classic, I know that pdlace in its context it was probably revolutionary or refreshing. And usually I am all for doing that. But in this case I couldn’t really.. I don’t know, the whole absurdism of the society (which is also echoed in feared-for-realities, I get that), the whole “let’s have all the sex and no feelings!”, the things that were probably meant to make me laugh and think at the same time.. They just left me mostly apathetic. And I hated feeling that way. But I did feel that way.

Perhaps I should really just put this back on the shelf and reread it in a couple of years, in print, perhaps with a reading guide next to it, and see how I feel about it then.

I kind of hope I’m not alone in this though. I’m very nervous about publishing a post saying that I just didn’t “get it”.

Other Opinions: I’m lazy today and there really are too many reviews out there to mention them all. You can find all listed reviews on bookblogs by clicking here.

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12 responses to “Brave New World by Aldous Huxley [audio]

  1. I’ve not listened to many audio books but I do know BNW, I’ll be honest I can’t see it working very well in that format so maybe you’ll get more of it if you try it in print.

    BNW is a classic that takes a little more work as it plays on the horrors of being giving a lot of mindless freedom rather than a scary, military state taking all your freedoms away (like in 1984). In BNW there is a lot of sex and leisure time but all babies are created in a lab, decanted from bottles (Huxley predicts test-tube babies) and contraception is mandatory for all women. There’s a very rigid society with specific social classes and which class you are created for defines what you can do for work, your hobbies and every detail down to whether you’re *allowed* to enjoy the look and smell of flowers. No one has true freedom as their time is completely controlled and there are no books to give them funny ideas about creating anything themselves or deciding they are unsatisfied.

    It’s less obvious but the idea of being controlled that way: of never having children or family because the state thinks that is too ‘messy’ when they can be decanted, of having no art, music or books because they all rely on emotions that the citizens aren’t allowed, of never doing anything individually because individualism means independent thought and that is dangerous, is quietly terrifying to me.

    Oh dear, this comment is now a mini-essay! I hope that helps a little though?

  2. Great to hear your thoughts. I plan on reading this one in the next week or so. I have wondered just how well some classics would translate in audiobooks.

  3. I don’t think it’s just you! I listened to this one on audio, too, and I agree that the narration wasn’t very well done. But having said that, I didn’t like the book much, either. I understand the points he was trying to make, but it didn’t engage me in the way other dystopias have.

  4. I read this in high school, and didn’t get it either. I took tests on it, and even wrote a paper on it, but it was just the most strange and uninspiring book that I have ever read. I have thought about reading it again, to see if I get more from it the second time around, but I just don’t ever see myself doing that. It is just not for me. Don’t feel bad. It’s not one of those great books that everyone can’t stop discussing. I honestly don’t even know why it’s a classic.

  5. I read this in high school and listened to the audio a few years ago. I like it a lot, but not for the characters or the story. It’s the situation that gets to me. I found that whole focus on efficiency and removing all opportunities for individualism and real passion to be frightening, just as Alex says. I see hints of that kind of thing around me a lot, so I felt like Huxley was onto something. This book scared me more than 1984, which I read at about the same time, because I think people are more likely to resist Big Brother than they are to resist all that soma and sex.

    Also, this was one of the first dystopian novels I ever read. It may suffer now in comparison to books that have come since that put more emphasis on characterization and story.

  6. I agree with Teresa. BNW makes me a whole lot more uncomfortable than Nineteen Eighty-Four because I feel it hits more close to home – It seems like Huxley was able to see beyond the fear of totalitarianism that motivated Orwell, coming closer to what we have today. People escaping into easy, recognisable fun in the face of adversity is something that I think we see a lot today (I think, for instance, it’s no coincidence that all we’re getting in big cinemas nowadays are remakes of films a lot of us associate with carefree youth and better times. It kind of makes me think of going to the feelies…).

    BUT, in terms of liking the book, I liked Nineteen Eighty-Four more. There was something about Orwell’s style that touched me a lot more than Huxley’s, so I can see where you’re coming from when you say that it left you a little cold. I would say that BNW spoke to me a lot more on an ideational level than on a literary level.

  7. Eh, I felt the same way you did. I read this when I was sixteen and again in college, and both times I found it…uninspired. There is also the issue that people who like it tend to not like the things I like, so we have two solid pieces of evidence that Aldous Huxley and I were never meant to be.

  8. Personally I really liked this book and prefer it to 1984, but you make some good points here. I have to say, I think the last sentence is pretty near perfect in terms of its sheer impact.

  9. I think it’s okay sometimes just to not like some books, without understanding why or having a “real” reason. I never really got into this book, either–you’re certainly not alone!

  10. Alex has already said what I would say about BNW. It’s such a prescient feat of imagination in many respects.

    The audio book thing? I’ve never been able to listen to one single AB without going to sleep or getting so irritated with the reader’s voice that I can’t stand it any more. As for not “taking in” the story, I think that might have something to do with the way your brain (and mine) is wired to process information. I learn by watching someone else do something and then having a go myself. People can tell me how to do something a million times, but it never seems to sink in. I really need to take things in visually. Some people learn more effectively by taking things in aurally, as I’ve found out with literacy students. It all depends on how our brains are wired and trained.

  11. I liked this book very much and am actually planning to read the sequel too. But, if it had been an audio book, I probably wouldn’t have liked it either. I like audiobooks for poetry, for prose, not so much.

  12. Pingback: The Literary Horizon: Brave New World « The Literary Omnivore

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