Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ayn Rand: Anthem

I heard of Ayn Rand quite late, I must have been nearly thirty or so. Her name - which no doubt was her intent - then floundered about in my brain for a while without being able to stick to anything. I thought it was a man's name, I thought it was a modern writer and not someone dead and so on. Finally, I think thanks to some article or other, I got it - but getting it didn't mean wanting to read it. In fact the only reason why I downloaded this to the Aldiko was that it was labelled science fiction. I thought I'd give it a shot. When I told my husband that I was reading Anthem he said that he didn't like Ayn Rand, she was too furiously liberal and sure of everyone being able to manage on their own.

Anyway, I didn't really see what he was on about, because I'd only started reading it and it was quite enjoyable retro science fiction so far. Clearly drawing on Soviet Russia, Rand describes a future in which no-one has choice, but are allocated work at the age of 15 or something, and then work work work until they retire, old and worn, at the age of 40. There is no privacy, no I. Only community and We. As far as community and we goes it reminded me of the anarchist world of Anaress, except Rand's future is a nightmare version of the idea. Our narrator is a bit of a rebel and has always been difficult, so despite having an aptitude for science he works as a street-sweeper, which clearly is a form of punishment and shows that there is a subtler power structure at work in a seemingly egalitarian society (Shevek on Anarres, again, comes up against that same problem). By chance he finds a way to hide away and experiment, but runs away when he realises that society doesn't want his ideas. The book then descends into a trudging monologue on how important it is to stand alone and not be ... I suppose it might be forced into a community, but it comes across more as part of community at all. A long tribute to Ego. It's boring and obvious and ruins the science fiction. Frankly, why bother writing a novel of imagination if you can't go through with it and be more subtle in your ideas? The most annoying part was Rand's surprisingly shoddy treatment of women, in my opinion. The narrator's love interest, who escapes to follow him into the wilderness, has no personality and seems to exist merely to worship the man and his great ideas, and to bear him a son (of course, the sex of the child she carries is a given, I mean why ever expect a daughter, right?). Oddly misogynistic and just plain dull.

No comments: