After Many A Summer by Aldous Huxley

As novels go, After Many A Summer by Aldous Huxley presents something of the unexpected. It’s a strange, rather perplexing experience. By the end, most readers will feel that what started as a novel somehow morphed into something different. What that something might be is probably a subject of debate. And exactly how of where the transformation took place will remain hard to define.

At the outset, any review of the book should state that this text is rather verbose, uses long sentences that tend to ramble, and presents paragraphs that can go on for pages. This is about as far as we could get from late twentieth century easy reading, though it was written only just before the Second World War. The narrative, if there is one, jumps from America to Britain, from the twentieth century to the end of the eighteenth, from third person reported events to the pages of a first person diary. Overall, the experience of reading After Many A Summer takes on a distinct feel of the random, rather than mere confusion.

Underlying the book’s progress is a search for an elixir of life. There’s a man of science and a doctor involved. There’s also the evidence provided by the memoirs of an eighteenth century diarist, an aristocrat who lived well into his nineties and chased skirt to the end. He develops – perhaps out of experience – a taste for fish entrails, specifically from the carp, and thus his writing influences the present, as twentieth century analysts believe that the fish innards might just have been the source of his longevity and preserved functions.

It would be wrong, however, to stress the word ‘plot’ in relation to After Many A Summer. It would also be stretching a reader’s imagination to claim it portrays characters. In essence, the book is only a novel because it lacks structure and because its author requires his musings to be voiced distantly by named protagonists, rather than by himself. Here Aldous Huxley subjects the reader to a string of almost random philosophical throwaways. Some of them descend to diatribe, but may – especially those that deal with the relationship between science and religion – are deeply thought provoking. Assembled, however, they do not constitute a novel and anyone who reads the book in search of linearity, literary tickling or elegance of expression will be deeply disappointed.

After Many A Summer is the kind of book that an interested reader might take up to read a page or two at a time. Since there is little thread to lose, it can be enjoyed in disconnected bites, the intervening estrangement allowing any ideas to ferment and settle. There are some real gems, but even these rarely elevate into the memorable.

Aldous Huxley’s book is very much of its time. The fall of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War takes place as the story progresses, and it is used as a vehicle for musings on the rise of fascism, totalitarianism, religion and the generally irrational. Overall, however, the book is a demanding and only partially satisfying read, which, on completion, does not eventually satisfy. Though it’s certainly not the author’s masterpiece, it is worth a look for anyone who has already read Huxley’s better known works.

Source by Philip Spires

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