About to leave Arizona, but my parting shot was an appearance on Bill Simmons’ B.S. Report podcast today, talking about the upcoming season, some interesting rookies and young starts, and why RBIs and pitcher wins suck.
Island was Aldous Huxley’s last novel, his own counterpoint to his most famous novel (#72 on the Klaw 100) Brave New World. The latter was a classic dystopian novel, while Island follows the model of utopian novels by laying out its author’s personal philosophies for a greater, more progressive society in the most stilted, boring way possible.
In Island, journalist Will Faranby is part of a conspiracy that revolves around a coup on the peaceful island of Pala, where a utopian society has grown over the previous 100 years with little interference from the outside world. Faranby ends up on the island by accident, and ends up in the Palanese medical system, meeting most of the local leaders, and learning about their classless society, their community-based economy (socialistic, but not purely socialist), their Buddhist-influenced spirituality, and their use of the psychedelic drug moshka (the book’s analog for LSD, which Huxley used in his later years and promoted for its “mind-expansion” benefits). Along the way, Faranby compares and contrasts what he finds in Pala to what he remembers of Britain, and Huxley is unsparing in his criticism of all aspects of modern British life, such as its system of education:
“You never saw anybody dying, and you never saw anybody having a baby. How did you get to know things?”
“In the school I went to,” he said, “we never got to know things, we only got to know words.”
Utopian novels are, as a rule, difficult reads because they’re so busy describing their utopias that they dispense with plot, and Island is no different, as there is virtually no story and absolutely no tension. Huxley set up the coup story but largely drops it until the last five pages of the novel, which read as an afterthought added because he had to end the book somehow. If you’re interested in a 350-page sermon on Huxley’s idea of a paradisiacal society, I would recommend Island, but I found the book a chore, and for the rest of you I’d recommend Brave New World instead.
Next up: James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, Tales of the South Pacific, later adapted into a famous musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein.