For any book lover the thought of destroying books, dousing them in kerosene, lighting a match and watching the pages curl and blacken, is almost painful. This however is precisely the dismal landscape of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian future, where books are forbidden and their owners are tracked down and killed by a mechanical hound.
The novel follows Guy Montag, a ‘fireman’ who’s life begins to unravel after he meets his neighbour Clarisse. Clarisse is a free thinker, brimming with unorthodox ideas and who, when she disappears, prompts Montag to question his own life, what secrets the books he burns might contain. What follows is a thought provoking, tense exploration of censorship, knowledge, ignorance and religion.
Though the novel was written in 1953, it echoes the Nazi book burnings of the 30s, and the ‘Great Terror’ or the ‘Great Purge’ of Stalin’s Soviet Union. In many ways these echoes heighten the icy interior (no pun intended) of the novel, where people spy on neighbours and look on in horror as hoards of books are uncovered, and then with relief as they are destroyed.
Rightly so, the novel even now remains a powerful read, it offers little comfort and but slender hope to the reader – in a kind of foreword, Bradbury reveals that fahrenheit 451 is “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns.” Whilst it all sounds rather bleak though, there is a poignancy in that the book can be read, and that whilst in the realms of the narrative books of any kind are contraband, we are afforded a taken for granted freedom.
So whether you find you love it or hate it, after reading it you can at least appreciate it, if not for yourself, for Montag and the persecuted inhabitants of Bradbury’s dystopian future.