EYELESS IN GAZA by Aldous Huxley is a beautiful mess. Beautiful I say because of the structure of the book – each chapter has a specific date heading and takes place at a certain point in time, the narrative moves forward and back in time. This literary device could be confusing but Huxley uses it to make us understand the base motivations and evolution of the characters especially the main character Anthony Beavis.
I say mess because while this is an interesting story told in an interesting way, it is not written that well. Huxley inserts long sections of philosophy that are surprisingly shallow and unclear. They slow the narrative down and do not add anything. He also writes too much in describing a scene, a little less description would have helped the story. This book could have used much better editing.
The hero, Anthony Beavis, is a bit of a marshmallow, one to whom life happens to rather than one who makes life happen. Throughout the book, he consistently takes the path of least resistance until the end when it is implied he is about to do something that could cause himself great bodily harm. This is meant to be the great positive character change – novel writing 101.
We are shown Anthony’s life up until the present in EYELESS IN GAZA – his mother’s death as a child, his friendship with stuttering, mother fixated Brian Foxe and its tragic outcome, his relationship with an older woman Mary Amberley and subsequently her married daughter Helen. We see Helen and Brian and another friend Mark Staithes make decisions about their lives and act on them. This is in direct contrast with Anthony who does nothing. In fact, I realized after finishing reading that I still have no idea what Anthony did for a living. His career is never discussed at all. Nor do we get a sense of what he looks like physically. This may not have been deliberate on Huxley’s part (I’m not sure he’s that good a writer) but it certainly works in establishing the nothingness of Anthony.
In fact, there are no truly admirable characters in this book. All are shown to be lacking in one way or another and this opens the door for Huxley to apply philosophy. It’s well known Huxley was as much a philosopher as he was a novelist and he wasn’t a very good philosopher so this gets in the way of the writing. It also explains why he’s not more celebrated now aside from his masterpiece BRAVE NEW WORLD which is a truly an insightful vision of the future and more like how I see the world becoming in the advent of so much access to everything.
Still, I did enjoy this book because of its structure and because of the desire for literary invention I sensed behind it. I would read more Huxley but I think I have to be in the right tolerant mood in order to overlook the other problems.