It does not happen very often, but there are books whose ideas surpass its prose. One case in point is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. There are many things I thoroughly enjoyed out of this SF classic, but it’s an imperfect novel and if it wasn’t for the strength of the concepts behind Fahrenheit 451, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book as much. As much as I liked what he was trying to say, I couldn’t stand a big chunk of Bradbury’s writing (I’m sorry).
Fahrenheit 451 is the flashpoint of paper – the temperature at which paper catches fire and burns. In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires, and he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames … never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s first novel which he wrote after publishing a series of short stories of the same “story”, and it shows. The prose was choppy and awkward at its worst, and overly poetic at its best. There were parts that come out of nowhere and are dismissed just as quickly. The world, while very interesting, was not well fleshed out. I usually am not very critical when I read books but I wonder if Fahrenheit 451 suffers from being old (i.e. 60 years old), or if Bradbury’s strength lies not in his novels but in his short stories. Is the language archaic? Has the novel been stretched too thin? Or does this book just feels rushed to me?
Its prose isn’t the loveliest, but Fahrenheit 451 was an engaging read and I enjoyed the world and the emotional and cultural underpinnings of a society that sought to drown thoughts and thinking with distractions. Montag’s world bears uncanny (and alarming!) resemblances to our own and this is not a good thing. We need not be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered?
Ray Bradbury is well-known for being nostalgic for a simpler, old-fashioned life, and Fahrenheit 451 brings to the surface a new level of mindfulness of the dangers of having fun too much and of having too much. The book is a reminder to hack out the inessentials and to exercise moderation in everything, including moderation.
Even with my complaints, I did enjoy Fahrenheit 451 in broad strokes and I’m glad I read it. You should too.