Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Eyeless in Gaza (1936) by Aldous Huxley

A young Aldous Huxley.  Eyeless in Gaza is supposed to be his most biographical novel, written after Brave New World was a smash hit.

Book Review
Eyeless in Gaza (1936)
 by Aldous Huxley

 I know plenty of people who "don't read reviews" because they don't want to "spoil" the movie/tv show/book etc, and I have to say, I just don't get it.  I actually like to know the plot before hand, because it helps me focus in on the art and craft of the work, rather than worrying if someone dies or whatever in the end.  If "not spoiling the plot" is important to you, you might as well be reading dime store romance novels.  To me, the plot is the least important thing because ultimately, every plot is predictable to a certain degree, it's the carrying out of the mechanics, the depiction of the scene and the characters, which are interesting- to me- anyway.

 Eyeless in Gaza is a portrait of disaffected well off English youth in the 30s.  The jacket copy on my Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition is laudatory ("An important book...without parallel in literature.") but I was not so impressed.  This book concerns the trials and tribulations of Anthony Beavis, a wealthy, upper-class socialite who experiences multiple crises of meanings in the non-chronologically arranged narrative.  The narrative is punctuated by incident: the suicide of a close friend, a love affair with a heroin addicted matron, an expedition to Mexico to assist a socialist revolution.  The lack of chronology makes the reader work, but there are no other modernist techniques in evidence, meaning that what is on the page is at least, understandable.

It's unclear why this book, along with close to 20 other portraits of upper-class English youth in the early 20th century would be one of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.   The only difference between this book and many of the themes (and characters)of D.H. Lawrence is that Huxley isn't afraid to pointedly discuss sex and drug abuse. The authorial voice in Eyeless in Gaza is closer to the tone of post World War II literature in its explicit treatment of historically "controversial" subjects, but the social milieu is unquestionably pre World War II.  

 The over-all impression I received from this survey of pre-World War II English literature was that the English upper classes were perilously close to declaring moral bankruptcy at the onset of World War II.  This perspective is certainly colored by the querulous sort of people who write classic novels, but the impression is a strong one.  Perhaps the most extraordinary part of reading Eyeless in Gaza was actually laying hands on a paperback copy.  I had it "on hold" at the San Diego Public Library for a half year before I broke down and bought at a book store in Concord Massachusetts during summer vacation last year.

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