ISLAND by Aldous Huxley

by JF

In Brave New World, written in the 1930s, a young Aldous Huxley predicted many grim societal changes for the world; in Island, written in the 1960s, an old Aldous Huxley sought to justify those societal changes. Indeed, the justification of some of these “societal changes” was a lifelong quest for Huxley. Huxley, who paradoxically became more and more naive as he grew older, became more and more certain that humans would be better off if some kind, benevolent oligarchy would be progressive (read “oppressive”) enough to abolish the family unit–abolishing fatherhood, motherhood, and childhood alike–abolish sexual restraints, abolish a lot of other traditional cultural mainstays, while officially endorsing and promoting the use of hallucinogenic substances among their subject masses.

Huxley invents a single fictional island in a remote region of the South Pacific where, due to a combination of historical, geographical, and political flukish fictional events, the fictional inhabitants of said island have happened to have reared up just a “utopian” society as Huxley would have dreamed up himself.

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.

Indeed, Huxley did dream it up, that’s why it’s fiction. And of course it would have to be fiction. No such society has ever has occurred, nor could it occur, without a brutal authoritarian regime cruelly burdening its people with it. Orwell understood this; Huxley was a naive new ager only posing as a rational thinker by comparison.
The real fault with this book, however, since it is fiction after all, lay in the fact that the actual STORY is so transparent and void of any concrete detail. It becomes readily discernible that Huxley “didn’t get out much,” at least not to primitive tropical island settings, and he was just doing his best to fabricate such a setting purely out of his desk-fettered imagination. What the reader instead is bombarded with, page after page after page, is Huxley himself expositing–philosophizing, really–through flat, prop-like characters. This gets to weigh heavily upon the attentions of the reader until each successive page starts to actually feel progressively heavier, the process of page turning seemingly to feel more like manual lifting.

Huxley has his utopian natives consuming hallucinogens, engaging in Tantric sex rituals with any and all comers, espousing blatantly Buddhist beliefs, acting smugly and self-satisfied to any rare visitor to their island. Tropical birds fly around the island and give the time to the natives, having no fear of them; everybody living in peace and hallucinogenic and licentious frivolity. It’s so unreal as to be laughable. The description of the setting is shallow and flimsy and the whole novel has the feel of a shallow contrivance with the obvious purpose of providing Aldous Huxley with a vehicle with which to peddle his peculiar religious amalgam of Buddhism, wanton carnality, and pharmaceutically-fueled escapism.

Island, Huxley’s last novel, has to be considered a total failure, both as a work of philosophy and, more obviously, as a work of fictional literature.

Rating: Δ