BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s classic envisages a dystopian future in which the job of firemen is to seek out books and burn them. In this edition, introduced by Michael Moorcock, Sam Weber’s astonishing illustrations perfectly capture the novel’s haunting atmosphere.

IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is widely know as a cult classic, it’s mentioned with great affection in the dystopian world and also science fiction realms; the book I would suggest transcends cult classic and becomes a must read book for anyone who loves literature. A book that I would highly recommend to all you bibliophiles out there to pick up and read, it’s themes and prose are magnificently constructed and executed. There is so much great writing in this book that it has quite literally taken me aback at how fabulous it really is and what a brilliant writer and visionary Ray Bradbury was.

FRH_13499531960Illustration © Sam Weber 2011 from The Folio Society edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 

Bradbury first wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 and I would have loved to have known how it was received in the 50’s, twenty years after the Nazi book burning, a campaign conducted by the German Student Union (DSt) burning books which they viewed as subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. The themes that Bradbury weaves into his story are both uncomfortable and bold at the same time, one can’t help but read his words and be stirred into action.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, powerless, hairless, expressionless.”

Bradbury with his assumptions on what the future would be like, perfectly guesses some of the technologies that we are now embracing, such as the (Apple) ear pods, huge televisions that take over whole walls and also being able to commune with digital people from the safety of your own house (Alexa or Siri anyone?) a master visionary at work – do you think Apple are paying him any royalties?

Bradbury’s voyeurism is also fundamental to the story, his observations on those characters within Fahrenheit 451 who Montag speaks with and interacts with are second to none and cause the reader to become fully immersed in the storytelling, society and the themes within this masterpiece.

The book centres around the fireman Montag. Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 are charged with setting fires instead of putting them out; instead of hosing buildings down with water they pump out kerosene, with their main aim to censor and eradicate the evil of books, the power of books and the trans-formative power of the written word.

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute.

Fahrenheit 451 delves deep into the psyche of what it is to be charged with a job, and then discovering that the job you have dedicated yourself to diligently and wholeheartedly might be the very job that is destroying the society you are trying hard to maintain. It’s the glue that binds the novel together, Bradbury delves into Montag’s inner turmoil; blinded by the censorship handed out by the government, his mind being attacked day-after-day, believing that he was fighting the good fight, when in fact he had been manipulated into policing a nightmare of epic proportions, but is there time to rectify this atrocity or not? Who can he trust, where can he turn, what can he do?

Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon. In all the rush and fervour, Montag had only an instant to read a line, but it blazed in his mind for the next minute as if stamped there with fiery steel. “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine.” He dropped the book. Immediately, another fell into his arms.
“Montag, up here!”
Montag’s hand closed like a mouth, crushing the book with wild devotion, with an insanity of mindlessness to his chest. The men above were hurling shovelfuls of magazines into the dusty air. They fell like slaughtered birds and the woman stood below, like a small girl, among the bodies.

fIRE F451Illustration © Sam Weber 2011 from The Folio Society edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 

The social and cultural issues that Bradbury discusses and directs in Fahrenheit 451 are also as if he glimpsed into the future and is writing about the time we are currently living in. It was shocking to read and also caused me to muse about how much we still have left to learn about life, and when we will make a conscious effort to change it – only a few weeks ago I was watching the television and reading the newspapers about the latest school shootings in America. Bradbury speaks about these issues here in the 50’s, using a young girl to talk about her fears of growing up in their censored and scarred world…can we honestly say that anything has changed?

“Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they don’t like me because I’m afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I’m responsible. I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and house cleaning by hand.

© Sam Weber, 2011 - Fahrenheit 451Illustration © Sam Weber 2011 from The Folio Society edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 

Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books, that once read, is a game changer. I’d heard about its brilliance long before reading it, I just never got around to reading it; now I have I can’t believe that I left it so long. Its impact is so very great, it’s also changed how and what I will write in the future. It’s a remarkable book that I believe everyone should read, although it could be classed as Dystopian or Science Fiction it’s appeal is huge and far reaching and shouldn’t be restricted and classified by these two genres; I firmly believe it has something for everyone.

“Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else’s coat-tails. How are you supposed to root for the home team when you don’t even have a programme or know the names? For that matter, what colour jerseys are they wearing as they trot out on to the field?”

The Folio Society’s edition of Fahrenheit 451 is a beautiful book. The construction of it helps to accentuate the brilliance of Bradbury’s words, bringing this classic to a new audience. A book that deserves to be displayed in all its glory.

There are numerous illustrations by Sam Weber, which breathtakingly open up the world Bradbury has created and help in aiding the reader to picture standout moments and characters. As well as coming in a slip case, the true beauty of the book is the striking cover that greets the reader when they slide this book from its holster – showing us the striking and haunting vision of the fireman (Montag possibly).

Sam Weber’s illustrations are dark and menacing and perfectly fit the story, plot and feelings that are evoked whilst reading. With so much raw material it could have easily been littered with illustrations, becoming a picture book in the process, but Weber has done a fantastic job (and it must have been hard deciding which illustrations to do)  in picking out key moments and haunting us with his artistic brilliance.

“When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realised I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for all the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them just the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think, what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands. He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

Fahrenheit 451 is published by The Folio Society and is available here.

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Check out the new trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 here.

Ray Bradbury

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In 1950, Ray Bradbury had a kernel of an idea for a story, and rented a typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library for nine days (it cost him $9.80). Dashing from the basement to the stacks to track down half-remembered quotations and typing at furious speed, in that short time he produced the first draft of an extraordinary novel. Serialised, widely published, adapted for film, theatre and even opera, the book, as Bradbury wrote, ‘seems to have a life that goes on recreating itself’.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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