I finished “Island” by Aldous Huxley last night. It is a novel about a utopian society, lost (at least temporarily) to the roar of capitalism and consumerism, that a cynical, shame ridden English protagonist finds himself shipwrecked on. The story follows his introduction to this society, his education about it, and his perceptions while he works both sides of the beginning of a conflict about to come to fruition.
I suppose at this point I have to modify my general statement that I don’t read fiction, to I read fiction about philosophy or therapy or spirituality about 20% of my reading time (I notice in the last two years I’ve read at least three fictional books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Schopenhauer Cure, and Island). Although generally I don’t like fiction, there is of course redeeming qualities in some of it. This book is certainly one that might assist the reader in seeking some sort of enlightenment.
At times I found the book verbose, although Huxley certainly uses colorful and beautiful language to paint a picture for the reader. As someone who is more interested in the meaning than the scenery, however, there were times I wanted the book to move faster, and found myself wanting to skim over his robust language to get to the meat of the story. It is true though, perhaps, in literature the prose is the meat.
So it is safe to say then that I found the book well written. The plot of the book is also excellent, as a utopian society is threatened by a nearby leaders desire for consumerism, to make their countries much like others who have given into the temptation. The story follows the protagonist’s curiosity to understand the working of this society, possibly to discredit them as naïve and further his cynicism about the human race.
The book portrays many of the inhabitants of this island as enlightened, or at least working toward it. As such some of the book focuses on his reading of their text, as well as his discussions with others on how they came to have the perceptions of life they do. It is my understanding Huxley believed in the use of hallucinogens to expand one’s consciousness, and this book purports their use. In fact it is part of a young person’s right of passage, as it is in some other indigenous cultures.
When I mentioned this book to a client, I was informed that Huxley is fond of the utopian society versus consumerism theme. I have never read “Brave New World” (should I reiterate I barely read fiction?) but I understand the theme is similar.
Overall I found the book to be an interesting read in regard to sociology and personal psychology regarding overcoming demons and becoming enlightened. (The book does not claim hallucinogens alone lead to enlightenment, and offers many more profound suggestions having to do with Buddhism that will lead the seeker to that end). The prose is extraordinary, and I was drawn into the characters. This, at times, led to wishing the book would move faster toward the resolution of conflicts. Regardless of the slight drawbacks, a very good read.