Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mockingbird

Truth be told, I haven't been this affected by a book in a long while. The book in question? Walter Tevis' Mockingbird. I've been reading it slowly over the past few days; it's not a book that you can rush, and it does drag at some parts, but does it pack a punch.

Mockingbird paints a dystopian future, but not quite what you expect. It's a future where society has broken down, not with a bang but with a whimper. People go through their lives in a drug-addled inward-looking haze. No more children are born. Worst of all, reading is dead; no one can read.

In a way, Mockingbird is an unofficial sequel to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I don't know if it was Tevis' intention, but it certainly feels like he extended some of the premises of 451. No, the books haven't been burned, but they might as well have been. People are all tuned into their TV programs.

Mockingbird is also a vehement repudiation of some of the virtues attributed to Ayn Rand. In the world of Mockingbird, Privacy and Individualism are valued most of all, so much so that people cannot even look each other in the eye.

What makes the book especially compelling for me is the near-inevitability with which our modern society is heading down its predicted path. These days, a form of inane individualism has taken root. People disdain reading (fittingly, I finished the book at a McDonald's, where I was the only one actually reading a book). Children are a burden to be feared.

If you're put off by the statements Tevis makes (as I perceive them), don't be. That's really just the background for the story of three very well-drawn characters. Mockingbird is still a novel, after all, and where it ultimately succeeds is in the unfolding transformation of the hero as well as a startling revelation close to the end. Believe me, I haven't been startled in a while.

Highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. weird: word verification for this post - dies

    Hiya Dom, it sure does sound bradburian in plot and scarier. I gotta find a copy of that book in keeping with the Scroogian spirit I'm imbibing from all the house/senate inquiries and "funny" prayers. :)

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  2. Hi, Gilbert,

    Yeah, it's really one book I can recommend. Quite literary, too, unlike other SF.

    Bought mine at National. You should be able to find a copy. Other books in the SF Masterworks series are also good.

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