Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Brave New World for the book group

This month's read was Brave New World by Adlous Huxley, chosen by Andy. It was a book that already seemed very familiar because, like Orwell's 1984, there are ideas, images and phrases that have become part of our language and our culture. All the group members enjoyed reading it, even if most wern't entirely satisfied with the story. None of the characters were very strong - because they were just vehicles for the idea. Tellingly, one group member, John, commented that the only person he felt he knew was Linda - poor, imperfect Linda, who'd fallen out of the system and committed the sin of getting ill, fat and unhappy. Everyone else was a slave to ruthless conditioning and predestination, drugged up on soma to keep passions at bay. The way peoples role in life could be formed in the birthing jar was a really strong image. Morag obseved that she'd spotted a few Epsilons on Jerry Springer that very day.

The background to the book - published in 1932 -was eugenics, American consumerism, the Great Depression, and the notion that the problems of society could be cured by a grand Plan. Although a less brutal regime than that of 1984, the 'civilisation' of the Brave New World was repugnant. John pointed out how it sometimes mirrored today's society: the botox/slimming mania to keep folk young forever; ageism; sexualisation of children; disgust at breast feeding in public; the doling out of antideppressant drugs from an early age.

The argument for encouraging promiscuity made a weird kind of sense - chastity breeds passion, and passion causes instabilty. We had a society therefore where everyone was at it like rabbits but it was just yawningly unerotic. The society recognised and admitted the central flaw of our consumerist world, to quote the Controller: "Industrial civilisation is only possible where there's no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits...otherwise the wheels stop turning."

We loved Helmholtz's plea to be exiled to an island with a bad climate: "I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms, for example..." I thought they were going to send him to Shetland, but it turned out to be the Falklands! Should Shetland Arts use Helmholtz's quote to attract writers here though?

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Perfect Storm

Our last discussion centered on the book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. As a whole the group felt it was a interesting read and that depiction of the lives and deaths of a sword boat crew had particular resonance for us since we live on an island and see our share of storms. The detailed description of drowning was particularly harrowing.
I felt the need to see an image of the boat and easily found this image on the Internet. This is the style of fishing boat I have seen throughout my life on the shore of New Jersey which lent the story even more poignancy for me. What was more unsettling was finding images of the lost crew. There are more images of life on the Andrea Gail at http://www.andreagailhistory.com/.
The group felt the story arc of the book sagged a bit in the middle after the Andrea Gail went down but that the pace picked up again with the description of the rescue of the crew of the Satori. The lengths that the National Guard and Coast Guard went to rescue the crew from the teeth of the storm were quite extraordinary. Andy insightfully pointed out that the structure of the book mirrors the structure of a storm with the building of tension, violent weather, calm at the eye and more violent weather and finally a survey of the damage done by the storm.
If you liked The Perfect Storm you might want to read The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw who was the captain of the Hannah Boden, the sister boat to the Andrea Gail. Her book describes life on a a sword fish boat. She is one of the few female boat captains in the sword fish fleet.