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Anthem: Better Than I Expected

February 3rd, 2010 (12:15 pm)

current mood: surprised

I recently finished reading Anthem, by Ayn Rand, which is my book club's pick for February. One reason to belong to a book club is to read books I might not have read on my own. But to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this one. I've read some of Rand's other work, years ago, and have generally disliked it. I always felt that she let the crucial jobs of telling a story and developing characters take a backseat to espousing her political views. I  like a novel with a point of view, and I have no problem reading a novel with a point of view that differs from my own. But it has to be a good novel first, and I didn't think her other books stood up well as novels, despite their importance as political pieces. So I was not optimistic about this one.

But it hooked me. It's a strong, elegantly written science fiction novel of a dystopian society. The book feels a bit dated now. We've read this same plot so many times that I found it utterly predictable. I would have been shocked if the protagonist had not escaped the evil city into the forest, to live a life of rural solitude with his beloved. But when Anthem first appeared in 1938, it must have seemed startlingly new. I found the description of the city to be chilling, the characters interesting and sympathetic, and the protagonist's dilemma compelling.  

The book's biggest weakness is Rand's inability to let the story speak for itself. Her political manifesto, tacked onto the end in the guise of a final chapter, is overkill. Still, I'm looking forward to discussing this one next week.