Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves.
My pick for this week is Aldous Huxley’s Island. The synopsis goes somewhat like this:
In Island, his last novel, Huxley transports us to a Pacific island where, for 120 years, an ideal society has flourished. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world.
A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala and events begin to move when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Will Faranby, is shipwrecked there. What Faranby doesn’t expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and — to his amazement — give him hope.
I must have been eighteen when I read this book. It got under my skin the way all good books do. It stayed with me long after I read it and I drew me back to it again and again. Island is a novel, but it is so much more than that. It is a book of ideas… about living and it grabs you and makes you think.
The story is set on a fictitious island called Pala. This is a place that is largely cut off from the rest of the world. The remarkable thing about this island, is that it is, quite literally, a happy place.
Pala is a country whose government, economy and society are all organised in way that promotes maximum human happiness. This was Huxley’s vision of a Utopia and unlike other such visions, it isn’t filled with irritatingly idealistic folks, but with real people with real problems.
It is not a utopia because it is a place without problems. It is a place where people have learnt to deal with their vices and their unhappiness in a rational manner. The basis of their lives is Buddhist, but they are not steeped in religion, nor do they follow it slavishly.
They believe in paying attention to life and living it moment to moment, accepting both the good and the bad and and not yearning for something they cannot have. Given the circumstances of their lives, they try to be as happy as possible.
Will Farnanby, the protagonist, is a journalist, hardened by his experience of life. He finds himself shipwrecked on Pala after an accident. He’s injured and he has to stay on the island for a couple of weeks as he slowly gets better. He meets a few people and talks to them and begins to get to know their way of life which is unlike anything he has ever seen before.
He begins by being skeptical, but he’s open minded enough to observe and listen to what the people of the Pala tell him about their way of life and their beliefs and much to his surprise, he finds himself thinking that this way of life could actually work and that human beings are maybe, not so bad after all.
This is a book that is a bit heavy on ideas and philosophy and there are times when you have one character talking for nearly three pages. But the ideas are so unique and interesting that I didn’t mind at all.
I’ve read this book many times over and it continues to amaze me. It has a wisdom and a breadth of vision that is incomparable.