Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Folio Society Edition

Yes, I know, it’s November and I should be reading German literature but…. After having read Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree in October I was so in the mood to read Fahrenheit 451 which was one of the few famous Bradbury novels I hadn’t read so far. What a coincidence that Jackie reviewed it a few weeks later. While she wasn’t too keen on the book I was still very tempted to read it right away and luckily someone saw my comment and a few days later I had a stunning Folio Society edition in my letterbox. It’s my first Folio Society book and it will not be my last. I love the nice paper and the illustrations by Sam Weber.

And the book? It’s not what I had expected. It’s so different from The Halloween Tree which is rich in descriptions and warm atmosphere. But I loved it anyway. It’s such a strange book, reading it felt a bit like walking around in a surreal dream.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future in which books are forbidden. If anyone is in possession of books, the firemen come to his home at night and burn it down. The job of the firemen in this novel is not to extinguish fire but to start it. They are feared but that doesn’t mean people let go of their books easily.

Montag is a fireman who secretly hides a few books. He doesn’t even read them and why he keeps them isn’t clear. It is something in his unconscious that pushes him to act this way. One evening when he returns home he meets Clarisse, a young girl. She is like nobody else he knows; she speaks with him, sees him, shows interest. What she tells him of her family is most unusual too. They sit together in the evenings and talk. Meeting her changes Montag in subtle ways and when she disappears he changes even more.

The society depicted in Fahrenheit 451 is a society in which real relationships are substituted by fake ones with people who are projected on walls in the living rooms of the houses. Giant TV screens replace real life, real experiences. It’s like a collective trance. Montag’s wife spends more time in front of those screens than she spends with her husband.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, ” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. and if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, ” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”

I liked this book a lot for many reasons. I liked the haunting atmosphere and the images it created.  I also liked some of the characters like Clarisse. And there are other amazing elements. Most of the novel takes place at night, the people of this society are all isolated from each other, nobody shares anything, still they feel strongly but live life vicariously through the people on the screens. I’m not much of a TV watcher but I’ve heard people talk about things they saw on TV, series or reality TV, which made me think they were talking about real people. Depicting a society like this was very perceptive in 1953.

Fahrenheit 451 is not my favourite Bradbury but it’s an amazing book, one that is really worth reading.

Thanks again to the Folio Society for this lovely book.