I’ve been sitting on a writeup of Eyeless in Gaza for a week-plus because I’m not sure how to sum it up. It’s a strange book with one clever literary device but an odious protagonist and a philosophical vein that, frankly, bored me.
I’ve read two other Huxley books – the dystopian classic Brave New World and the social satire Antic Hay – but Eyeless bears no resemblance to either work. The protagonist, Anthony Beavis – no, no sign of Butthead, sorry – is a morally rudderless libertine who lost his mother at an early age and was raised by an emotionally distant father who rebounded into a second marriage. He goes to college where he befriends a shy, religious boy named Brian, only to betray him a few years later by seducing his intended. Some years later, Anthony has an existential crisis while trying to write a “sociological” book that is more of a philosophy of life.
The clever device was the weaving of multiple timelines together without destroying the feel of the narrative. You know from early in the book, for example, that Brian is dead, because it’s revealed in the latest timeline, but because Huxley has chopped up his story into four or five timelines and cycles among them as they converge towards the book’s end, the how and why comes out in stages. It’s not the only book to use this method of telling a story, but the separation among storylines is more severe than in any other book I can remember, I don’t believe I’ve read an earlier book that used this device.
Beavis, however, is indeed a butthead. His betrayal of Brian is really just the icing on the cake, although it certainly colors one’s opinion of him to know that he betrayed his best friend and in possibly the only genuinely good person in the book. Everyone else is rotten and/or broken, and when one character threw another overboard or under the bus, I just greeted it with a shrug.
Eyeless in Gaza is part of the Bloomsbury 100, but that seems like a questionable call given the more enduring influence and popularity of Brave New World; in fact, Eyeless seems to be out of print in the U.S.
I’m scheduled to be on the FAN 590 in Toronto on Wednesday at 6:05 pm, and we appear to be on for a 1 pm Klawchat on Thursday.