Friday, 16 March 2012
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
A Classic dystopian that follows an unnamed man, a man who is but a number. In a world ruled by OneState under the Benefactor, humanity is seen as more of a huge machine of which every number (person) is cog in the whole system. Being a novel written by a Russian author in the 1920s (just before communism spread through it). As such, this is a predominant influence in the book; one which the author disagrees with quite clearly.
I think the main issue I had with the book was something I don't blame the author for. The way book is written is from the perspective of D-503, our protagonist, from the early days of his true belief in OneState and the benefits of its ideology to one who is challenged and overcomes that challenge as he sees fit. The problem was that I was very often confused as to what was occurring. It being a Russian novel, the way it is written is bound to be different and often confusing. I've never managed to finish one of the longer Russian novels and- when I see the plays- I always have sections where I completely zone out. So much is going on and physically can't deal with so my brain goes into lockdown. The bits I am conscious of (and able to understand) are great, but the ones which aren't cause me a great deal of confusion.
So in some ways, this book might be a good way to see how you would react to a Russian novel since it is a fraction of the length, but still what I have come to expect from Russian writing. And I know I am somewhat prejudiced since I've only tried...what, 3? But that is how I feel, and in knowing that you know my opinion and the (perhaps) flimsy evidence I base it on.
There was also a maths element in the book that I really rather loved. Not everyone is as geeky about Maths as I am, so I wonder if others would perhaps be more confused than I. Statements about irrational or imaginary numbers that make sense to me might make many other people scratch their heads, bewildered. One of my favourite quotes was about how one avoids and irrational (it might have said imaginary) number creeping into an equation as an analogy for unforeseen circumstances arising in life. I understand that effort to avoid the irrational (imaginary) number and just this extra element made the book interesting in that sense.
The overall plot was predictable, in my opinion, but I shan't share it all the same. It acceptable, but it acted as a way to demonstrate an idea or situation. It felt less like a story more like a device...a tool. As though the author wanted to make a point about something and manipulated the plot to allow for that. Some people might say that is the core of a book, but the lack of distinctive plot irked me somewhat. There is the other side of it though in that it was one of the earliest dystopias so perhaps it is THE original. I don't know.
Character-wise...again acceptable, but somewhat irksome. I felt as each character was meant to represent an ideology or a reaction to an ideology, a way of living with it. Now, there's nothing really wrong with this, but it makes characters too clear-cut and predictable in my eyes. In a strange way the entire book was like a grand equation where each element- setting, character, plot- where merely the variables that were altered to show what the equation equals; what the result of the chosen variables is.
So, as an overall idea, I appreciate the book for what it portrays intellectually and ideologically, but as a story or a novel I think it is somewhat poor. I don't mind a book with a message, but it needs to be that. A book WITH a message, not just a message.
Also, my favourite quote (underlined is my favourite bit):
The highest thing in Man is his reason, and what the work of reason comes down to is the continual limitation of infinity, dividing infinity up into convenient, easily digestible proportions: differentiation.