Anthem, by Ayn Rand

June 23, 2012 at 21:09 (Book Reviews, Comedy, Dystopia, Fiction, Philosophy, Poorly Rated Books, War and Politics) (, , , )

3/10

It is important to not mince words. Ayn Rand was a hack, a shuddering and grating alarm blaring a single-noted siren with a stygian monotony. She never knew Dante, but if she had, she would surely have figured in his magnum opus as one of the particularly graceless staff of his infernal establishment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she represents the absolute bottom rung of the tiresome ladder of the written word, pasting up antisocial complaints and hideously self-satisfied whining and expecting it to be hailed as literature.

But let the philosophers judge her defunct philosophies for what they are! It is for the students of literature to pick over the carcass they have left, and see if there remains an actual story beneath the epistle of this raving prophet. In Atlas Shrugged, the clear answer is no. In Anthem, the answer might be a little more complicated.

“I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of the spirit. I guard my treasures, my thought, my will, my freedom; and the greatest of these is freedom.”

-Anthem

In her favour, there is a story to be found: a light dystopia such as Lois Lowry might have penned for children; a simple parable with an equally simple message behind it. Never mind that the message in Rand’s case is abhorent. At least it is a story, and told in a consistent if petulant voice. She aspires to Orwell and ends up with a juvenile pulp novelette, but although the product is trite, rushed and muddled, it is at least not nauseating.

A great deal of this changes in the penultimate chapter, which is the light version of John Galt’s speech in her more famous book. There are no apologies, no warnings, and if ever there were a distilled version of Rand’s own ten verbose commandments, they would be found starkly inscribed here. A tedious chapter and a predictable and shabby end for a book, but the fact that this one chapter is so noticeably worse than the others, is a pyrrhic point in favour for Anthem.

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Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

October 31, 2010 at 19:01 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Philosophy, Politics) (, , , , )

1/10

It is startling and discomfiting when one reads a supposed classic only to find it devoid of any redeeming features whatsoever. All the way through, the thought replays itself; “Somebody must like this book…” Ayn Rand’s characters have been excused their lifelessness and two dimensionality by the nature of their parable. How better to paint a grim and frightening picture than with dreadful and wearisome implements?

Her murky and aggressive philiosophy has been defended as a reaction against the pallid socialisms or dreadful communisms of her day, though a clearer case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, might never be found. She takes the frigid, souless and utterly unfair ideas of equality-at-all-costs, shirking and uncompensated theft and proposes as a champion an equally souless monster that turns a blind eye to suffering, pain and humanity; that treats thieves as murderers and seeks to enthrone some sort of anarchic oligarchy as a god to be worshipped by the cringing masses.

Her writing, I suppose, has been defended as a towering classic of modern literature. “Towering” is an easy one to see. But this is a manifesto, plain and simple. One might as well describe Mein Kampf as a collection of iambic verses as pin the label “literature” onto this lumbering behemoth. Quite beside its decidedly unpalatable philosophy (it is tempting to refer to it as a theology), this book is unreadable largely because of Ayn Rand’s refusal to admit that people are complex. Her heroes are flawless symbols of her better age; her villains make Captain Hook seem intricately motivated and multifaceted. When not engaged in political speeches (which may or may not last in one case for some 30,000 words) her heroes regress to thinking about sex in clean, clinical and machinelike terms. Can anyone say, “metaphor”? The shameless transparency of Rand’s writing might be intended to demonstrate how black and white the issue is, and how never the twain shall meet, but it sometimes seems as crude and risible as a childish scrawl.

So much for that, then. But besides the crass and artless message portrayed in the book – and the brutal way in which it is crammed down the reader’s throat – is there anything to redeem it? Well…no. Really, the book reeks of a tantrum of global proportions, and if you ever manage to claw yourself to the end of this 1000 page sleeping pill, it will be to the reverberating echo of Rand’s sad ghost screeching, “Me! Me! Mine! Give!”

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