Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of 20th-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future, narrated here by Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins.
Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family”. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.
Farenheit 451 is one of the classic dystopian sci-fi books, and with good reason. It’s awesome. It’s dark, but there is hope. The audiobook is narrated by Tim Robbins and from the start he draws the listener in. The action is fast-paced, does not hold back with the darkness and violence but yet Robbins holds the listener.
It’s rather reminiscent of Orwell, but with more hope. The story builds – from Montag’s meeting of the young Clarisse and her questioning of the world, to the mundanity of a life he has never questioned. There is fear, from a terrifying cyborg dog which hunts down criminals to the burning of people as well as books. The Fireman captain is a fascinating character – he recites lines from books and he is obviously intelligent yet he burns the knowledge contained in the books, and tries to warn Montag of the dangerous path he’s on. He’s cynical, but methodical. He is not wicked, as such, he doesn’t take joy in what he does but he also doesn’t care about the lives and the books he destroys.
The final part is action-filled, paced and desperate, and the ending was actually a surprise to me. There is a lot of death, but there is also hope, and the continuity of knowledge.
Bradbury was ahead of his time with this – the almost slavish reliance of TV/media, the cyborg dog and (it could be argued) the turning away from books and knowledge. The characters are well written and the prose keeps the reader/listener engaged. I listened to this in one sitting and I could easily find myself engrossed in the book.