Sunday, March 2, 2014

Throwback ... Uh, Sunday. Yeah. Social Media FTW!

Note: I am subtitling this review: "or, What Happens When You Write about Aldous Huxley Whilst Taking Cold Medicine"

There's that whole thing where you do Throwback Thursday and Happy Hump Day and all that stuff on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and whatever other social media you like to use.  I don't do that.  First of all, I'm lucky if I even know which day of the week it is.  Secondly, it's too clique-y.  I feel like I'm shut out of the popular group in Courtney Summers' brilliant Some Girls Are, where the hawt girls decide that they're all wearing a certain color on the same day.

However, this review is of a mildly old (as opposed to really old, i.e. Gilgamesh) book by Aldous Huxley.  No, it's not Brave New World.  It's Crome Yellow, originally published in 1922! Crome Yellow No, I didn't misspell "chrome."  "Crome" is the name of the estate where the novel's action occurs.  I wasn't quite sure about the "yellow" (although I do know that there's a pigment called "chrome yellow), so what did I do?  A cursory Google search and throwing-in-of-the-towel?  Nay!  I am a librarian, and felt compelled to peruse the academic literature for illumination.  (Please skip the next bit if you think I am getting a bit pedantic, or if you don't like long quotes, or if I'm starting to remind you too much of college lit papers.)
chrome yellow
Sally A. Paulsell, in "Color and light: Huxley's pathway to spiritual reality" (1995), posits that,
"Chrome yellow, one of the chrome colors noted for its clearness and brilliance, reflects golden yellow in its purest hue; thus, the luminescence of both chrome yellow and the house party at Crome has the potential to captivate with its dazzling brilliance. The creative guests (including a writer, a poet, an artist, and a philosopher) arrive bringing bright promise of sparkling conversation"

Taking Ms. Powell's interpretation and running with it, the choice of chrome yellow is therefore ironic, since none of the houseguests dazzle or create anything worthwhile.  The main character, Denis, is a poet who writes the most awful verse.  I actually had to skip some of it--it was that bad!  He could be a good poet, but finds himself trapped in this horrible spiral of self-loathing and self-deprecation.  Definitely not bright and dazzling like chrome yellow.

ANYWAY.  For any of you who skipped my minor academic digression, we're getting back to the book now.  Yay!

Crome Yellow is a satire of the British house story--you know the type.  People descend upon a large-ish house in the British countryside; shenanigans ensue.  Many of the Bertie Wooster novels depend upon this formula.  At Crome, the host Mr. Wimbaud, who's basically a vague outline of a person with no discernible personality, and the hostess, who wears a very large orange wig, invite various "bright young things" over for a house party.  The aforementioned Denis is the poet.  Gombauld is a painter.  Anne (Denis' love interest) ... well, I'm not exactly sure what she does except make Denis feel so in lurrrve and "sway" sensuously through the book.  Oh, I just double-checked--she's Wimbaud's niece.  Mary Bracegirdle is often identified by her "bell-like" yellow hair.  She likes birth control and making rational decisions about irrational topics, like love.  It's indicated that Jenny is "deaf," but it seems more like she's hard of hearing (selectively so, as well, which slyly intimates that there's absolutely nothing wrong with her).  Jenny often retreats behind the shelter of a red journal.  Mr. Scogan is a philosopher who posits some of the more interesting ideas in the book--we'll see these ideas again in Brave New World

 Other house guests come and go.  One of my particular favorites was Mr. Barbecue-Smith.  How could you not love a name like that?  Ivor is the dashing rogue who has paramours in every port--er, English country house.  

The wonderful thing about this book is that pretty much nothing happens, and yet Huxley's created characters so flawed that they're incredibly engaging.  You're laughing at them the whole time, and then surreptitiously examining yourself for the same flaws.  

Huxley throws in some zingers, like Scogan's admiration for "Mr. Thom of Thom's Hill ... [who] spent ten years in Thibet organizing the clarified butter industry on European lines."  Just the thing that a machine-obsessed philosopher would love!  Scogan, by the way, is the one who predicts that we'll grow babies in jars (sound familiar?) and cull the population of undesirable offspring.  His whole harangue on the Rational State to Denis at the end of the book is pretty much Brave New World 101.  

Another quote I loved, "It is humiliating to find how impotent unadulterated sanity is."

I've now realized that it's ridiculously hard to review this book, since there really isn't a plot, but just read it.  Please.  It's extremely smart, not too long, and utterly satisfying in its lack of resolution.  It's also absolutely worth a read just for Mr. Wimbaud's nightly reading of his family history, which has one of the more original demises of a character that I've read in a long time.  And it deserves a heck of a lot more than just a #TBT.  

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