December 8th, 2002 Comments Off on Island

Finished reading Island, by Aldous Huxley, in the past week. A few years ago, I started reading it, but stopped after a few pages — I don’t remember why. This last week, as I was seeking new titles in the city’s Public Library, I came across the book again and decided to give it a new try.

The book is named after after the place where the story is set: the forbidden island of Pala, a natural paradise located in the Pacific Ocean, where Utopia is a reality. The story is told in the point of view of Will Farnaby, a journalist purposely shipwrecked in the island. He asks and is given permission to stay for one month, under two conflicting motivations. He wants to understand Pala and its culture, and simultaneously, understand himself. His other motive is the negotiation of an agreement between the Palanese Government and a petroleum company, whose owner is Farnaby’s boss, for the exploration of Pala’s reserves. Throughout the book, Farnaby feels guilty about his hypocrisy, but justifies himself with the thought that if he didn’t do it, somebody else would.

The story has a hopeful undertone, obviously opposing itself to Brave New World and its terrifying outlook. Farnaby typifies Huxley himself, searching a personal understanding and trying to believe in the possibility of humankind becoming mature mentally and spiritually. In Pala, that transcendence is achieved by a combination of Buddhism, science and a reality-expansion drug. Hope remains until the last moment, although the nightmare of end is present at all times, represented by those who want Pala’s “progress” and the “benefits” of Civilization.

The details of the Palanese culture are vast. A weak point in the narrative are the long digressions to explain those details. Although they are sometimes necessary, and partly justified by Farnaby’s being a visitor interested in learning more about the island, the result is a kind of pedantism that makes the narrative tiresome in some points.

Despite the hopeful note, Huxley pessimism wins. Pala’s fate is clear, and can be summed up in the feeling of a character that thinks Pala’s happiness is an affront to the rest of the world.

In short, it’s an interesting book. Huxley is a master writes, and shows his mastery with a fluid narrative, real and human characters, and a good development of the issues the story raises. Recommended reading.

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