Review – “Antic Hay” – Aldous Huxley

Antic HayAntic Hay by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Antic Hay, but found its second half better than its first. The novel starts slowly, and when the protagonist, Gumbril, meets his intellectual and arty friends in London and thus introduces us to them, I almost despaired. Certainly, Huxley was a bright and intelligent young thing, and his friends certainly would also have been intelligent and intellectual and arty. However, when somebody tries to capture the essence of such situations they inevitably fall flat – what is charming, witty, intense and clever when you’re twenty-three, drunk and an Oxbridge graduate, can sound rather fey, precious and irritating when you’re sober and went to a red-brick university (or none at all!).

The novel is essentially plotless and episodic, but in the second half the episodes become more connected, and at last Huxley starts talking about people, real people, or at least the kind of people I might know. People who have relationships, and succeed or fail at them. The cyphers begin to develop into characters. Yes, it’s still a satire on the kind of people in the Bloomsbury set, but it begins to have more feeling, and I could empathise with characters.

In many ways this books is similar to Crome Yellow. But it is perhaps too long. There was a feeling that wheels were spinning a bit too much at the beginning. If this book had been as short as Crome Yellow, and had concentrated more on character development, then it might have been as entertaining as Crome Yellow.

Nonetheless, it was entertaining enough to keep me reading, and picked up just at the right point to prevent me dropping it.

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Review: Crome Yellow

Crome Yellow
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed Crome Yellow a lot more than I expected to. I’m not one for humour in books, so if it was funny in a 1920s-style, that passed me by. Nothing much happens in the novel, and what passes for plot is slight. That it satirises and lightly mocks the world that Huxley moved in at that time is well-known: the Bloomsbury set, the Garsington crowd. And Huxley is self-knowing enough to realise that he is one of those people. It is tempting to see the protagonist Denis as Huxley himself; the young, slightly naif poet, moving among older, wiser, talented people, searching for something, but somewhat callow and innocent — many of the people Huxley mingled with at Garsington — Bell, Middleton Murray, Lawrence, Russell — were ten or more years older than he.

The crisis at the end is faintly ridiculous, but at the same time oddly true — for who else but a naif to whom nothing had happened would contemplate such an action?

Also of passing interest were hints of topics that would interest Huxley in his later books. Obviously, satirising intellectuals and the pre-occupations of a certain class would continue through Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza; but, for example, one of the characters in Crome Yellow discusses an ideal society in which children are selected at birth for particular roles and educated so that those roles become their prescribed path through life — a prefiguration of the social rankings in Brave New World, of course.

Ultimately, Crome Yellow was light and frothy. It was a delight. A charm.

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