Saturday, June 11, 2011

Utopia: Island by Aldous Huxley

From the back cover: In his final novel, Aldous Huxley transports us to the remote Pacific island of Pala, where an ideal society has flourished for 120 years. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala, and events are set in motion when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Will Farnaby, is shipwrecked there. What Farnaby doesn't expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and - to his amazement - give him hope.

My review: I discovered that I love Aldous Huxley's writing. I've read Brave New World, Ape and Essence, and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan but had forgotten how much I enjoy Huxley's books. It only took me the first couple pages to rediscover this. Huxley's writing is sound, and in this book it's intellectual, but at a cozy level of intellectual (as in the majority of readers should easily be able to understand it). I was connecting bits and pieces from just about everything I've learned to the novel: history, literature, religion, philosophy, biology, sociology, even French. It is this aspect, along with the fact that the book is a utopia, that makes the novel fascinating. Not in a read-it-as-fast-as-possible way, but a one-chapter-a-day, soak-it-in way. Island was published in 1962, and it does have a bit of the '60s vibe, mostly with the Eastern religions that play a prominent part of the utopian society along with the moksha-medicine that the Palanese use for Enlightenment.

Is there anything that I didn't like about the book? The one thing that seemed a little off-kilter about the utopia was its blend of Western and Eastern aspects. The Palanese are full-blown Buddhists and live in semi-primitive conditions, yet most are familiar with the Western canon and Western science and Malthusian economics have left them with superior agricultural technology, electricity, and a method for population control. The whole West/East blend never completely synced for me, but hey, it's Huxley's pipe dream, not mine. Also, by the last two chapters I was bored. Maybe it's just because it took me a while to read the book (again, it's a one-chapter-a-day, soak-it-in novel), but I was ready for the book to end by the time the conclusion was reached. Still, there were thirteen awesome chapters before the two less interesting ones, and I'll be re-reading Island in later years to ensure that I didn't miss any of Huxley's message or the little connections he makes to all kinds of other subjects.

My Harper Perennial edition of Island was given to me for Christmas. Island was first published in 1962.

Join the Classic Bribe over at Quirky Girls Read!


  1. I did like the blending of the Eastern and Western worlds as you noticed in Island. I firmly believe this was Huxley's best non-fiction effort. Aside from the books you mentioned above, Time Must Have a Stop is also very good if you like what you've read so far. He is one of my favorite authors and raised serious issues and made world-wide breakthroughs in the research of psychedelics as well as our cognitive liberties. Island raises the possibilities of a place like Pala and the dangers such a world would be in contrasted with the rest of society as we currently know it (and as Huxley knew it.)

    I drew a portrait of Huxley rolling in his grave on my artist's blog at Let me know what you think!

  2. I will have to take a look at Time Must Have a Stop, then! I'm not familiar with any of Huxley's other non-fiction books or research and need to read those as well. I enjoyed viewing your artwork, by the way.