Friday, November 28, 2014

Mount TBR #32

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

After Many a Summer aka After Many a Summer Dies the Swan – Aldous Huxley, 1939

Critics often describe this as Huxley’s satiric “Hollywood novel.” For sure, Huxley, the most erudite writer of his generation, takes funny potshots at American superficial crassness, tasteless kitsch, philistine looseness of education, and worship of youth. However, Huxley does not focus on the toilers in Tinsel Town’s major industry. Instead, the story focuses on oil millionaire, Jo Stoyte.

Like Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ famous movie, Stoyte is a collector of art and people. To his gothic castle in Southern California, he has granted residence to his lascivious mistress, a battalion of servants, and the only childhood friend that treated him decently, an academic turned Vedantist sage. Stoyte also funds a private research lab whose director is a cynical doctor working on extending human longevity. Because he was brought up on mean religion, Stoyte fears death like nothing else:

Always, in the background of his mind, there floated an image of that circular marble room, with Roden's image of desire at the centre, and that wide slab in the pavement at its base--the slab that would someday have his name engraved upon it: Joseph Penton Stoyte, and the dates of his birth and death. And along with that inscription went another, in orange letters on a coal black ground: It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Huxley, to my mind, is not as hyper-intellectual or excessively articulate as Rebecca West. But the action is mainly the characters doing a lot of talking. While he includes dabs of fantasy and science fiction elements, Huxley delves into Vedantist thought, art, poetry, and morals. As usual, though, Huxley keeps his feet on the ground, exploring the interior of characters and identifying plausible justifications for their silly behavior, which is irrational in an ordinary way. The senseless homicide in the story will call to mind the TV reality cop show, The First 48 Hours, on which virtually all the killings are committed for reasons so trivial and stupid that it taxes belief. Huxley was a mystic, but he lived in this silly scheming lurid world  where too many people just DGAF.

He also wrote clear prose, even when the dialogue concerns the most fantastic issues  in Vedantist mysticism.  Huxley called this novel "a wild extravaganza, but with the quality of most serious parable" and later called it "a kind of fantasy, at once comic and cautionary, farcical, blood-curdling and reflective." Readers and advanced yoga fans in search of a funny, scary novel of ideas, just as relevant nowadays as it was 75 years ago may want to check this one out.

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