Sunday, 21 November 2010

Atlas Shrugged Review

For the first time in what seems like years, I have a million and one things on my to-be-read list. This includes Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, and many gritty dystopia novels I noted down from a Twitter link to the best dystopia novels of all time. Needless to say, I’m thrilled. But the novel I just finished, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, simply had to reviewed. It blew my mind. It’s on par – if not better – then 1984 by George Orwell. And that is saying something.

For anybody who’s not familiar with Atlas Shrugged (I certainly wasn’t when I picked the 1168 page book off the shelf of the classics section), it’s a political novel, bordering dystopia in that through the years of the book, we see society crumbling at the hands of the ‘moochers’ and ‘looters’ of government. The downward progression of society and the country of a whole as man loses his morals and values is skilfully done with a plot which keeps the reader hooked and passionately reading throughout. The novel itself is extremely intricate; a fact the reader can’t truly appreciate until you see the eventual outcome of the novel. It’s incredible how Rand has manipulated the plot, throwing in hints and clues of future events without the reader even registering them until the situation links back to it later. There is hardly any of the novel that isn’t relevant, an impressive achievement for a novel over a thousand pages long with size nine font.

I truly wish I could say every point in the book was relevant. Rand’s one downfall, in my opinion, comes to the crux of the novel. It’s a seventy page chapter, in which around sixty pages is uninterrupted, continuous speech. Whilst Rand’s musings and philosophy on the morals and values of man is riveting and central to the plot of the novel, it began to feel like the same points were being circulated through different language. The text was beautiful, but the reader is left with an overdone sense of anticipation for what happens after the speech, resulting in rather monotonous reading no matter how wonderful Rand’s rhetoric may be.

But this as far as I’m concerned is the book’s only real flaw. Despite my ignorant knowledge of railways, steel mills and business as a whole, Rand introduces the themes of her book with little confusion, the reader picking up on the knowledge automatically as the book progresses. You may be wondering why, if I had no knowledge of central themes of plot, did I buy the book in the first place. Simply, it was based on the sheer quality of language. It’s a rare find, to see such beautiful, captivating and lively prose, quality of which people come to expect only in poetry, which I personally do not find to be as enjoyable as fiction to read or write. However, Rand is an exception of this widely accepted rule. Even in the first few pages, the introduction of Eddie Willers and John Galt – both key, but the former nowhere near as important as the latter – as well as the state of the current world the novel is set in, there is a bittersweet beauty to it.

Atlas Shrugged is a breath of fresh air to my normal reading. It’s wonderful to see such ornately crafted prose, so delicate yet emotive to the reader. I can honestly say this is a text which changed my political and conscious outlook on life. The entire novel is a testament to Rand’s own political ideology of Objectivism, promoting high business, low sustenance based on the claim of ‘need’, and man’s own moral code, which he and his peers must live by to succeed and be truly happy in life. The ideology has been presented in a way that’s far more persuasive than any political campaign or television advertisement. If David Cameron changed the entire Conservatism ideology to Objectivism, I would be thrilled.

As well as plot, there is one more thing Rand does wonderfully – characters. The main character, somewhat surprisingly for such a business and politically centred novel, is a woman called Dagny Taggart. She, along with her brother James, runs the transcontinental railway service Taggart Transcontinental. Although it is James, often referred to simply as Taggart, who has the title of railway president, we soon learn it is Dagny who is the real brains behind the business, going from one catastrophe to another with the grace and finesse of a businesswomen who knows exactly her place in the world. Having been published in the 1940’s, Rand’s world is one which does not take kindly to businesswoman, Dagny being a rare find and a target for controversy. It is Dagny’s sheer spirit and loyalty towards the legend of her railroad and founding ancestor Nat Taggart which pulls her through the majority of the book, even as society collapses around her.

Now, let me say this. I love Dagny. I want to be Dagny. Everything about her embodies my perfect vision of a strong female protagonist; fearless, brave, confident, and totally assured of the world around her. Even when she is forced to question everything she knows about the world and society, she never loses her central character. One of the main things that disappointed me about The Hunger Games was how much of Katniss’s character was loss in the chaos. I was incredibly thankful to see none of Dagny’s character was lost as the plot developed. She was true to who she was throughout the entirety of the book. Rand either had an incredibly strong sense of Dagny’s character, or – as I suspect – is simply a very gifted and talented writer.

Dagny is by far not the only character to dazzle me in Atlas Shrugged. Every character Rand introduced had flair and individuality, but it was the main characters who I really came to love. There is a select choice of love interests for Dagny, some touched upon significantly more than others. Every time one love interest was introduced, I was sure he and Dagny would end up together by the end of the book. I fell in love with these characters, wishing for their success with Dagny, hoping for advancement in their relationship ... all to be erased when another love interest came along. This happened at least three times. Despite all my love for the previous interest, Rand turns the plot in a way that you can’t help but not hold new affinity for the next person, the circumstances in which they meet and their relationship develops too tempting a trap not to fall back into. I was devastated when Dagny moved on from who I assumed to be the main partner by the end of the book, but delighted as I read more about the new character, who eventually did end up with Dagny. Rand had twisted my emotions enough that I was satisfied with this and very content with the outcome of the novel as a whole.

Ayn Rand has what every author should aspire to achieve. Gorgeous prose. Captivating characters. Genuine emotions and a truly awe-inspiring piece. It was a book that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it, and encouraged me to buy another of Rand’s novels, The Fountainhead. She claims it is along the lines of a prologue for Atlas Shrugged, which at first worried me in case the writing style differed. I’ve only read fourteen pages and it is clear that is not the case. Rand’s prose is as eloquent and beautiful as ever. I sense an avid fan in the making.

My only real disappointment is her death. I sorely wish she was still alive, simply so I could continue to read such fantastic work. I wish every novel I read held the power Atlas Shrugged has, and someday I hope to write a novel even half as good. I can truly say she has been my best book find all year, and I’m already desperate to work through my reading list simply to go back to her novels. In my opinion, she’s achieved what every author theoretically should – to keep the reader coming back for more.

Now, I’m going to read The Fountainhead, edit, and brush up on my adjectives to find more ways to describe how brilliant I found Atlas Shrugged to be.

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