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Aldous Huxley: Ape and Essence

Huxley’s second foray into the future is not nearly as good as his first. Indeed, this novel can be looked at in various ways. You can see it as starting off as being Lolita, quickly moving on to Lord of the Flies meets Mad Max. Alternatively, you can follow the plot, which has two scriptwriters finding a script which falls off the back of a lorry and which they read. They decide that the script is so interesting that they search out the writer, who has only died a few weeks ago. Why they do this is beyond me as the script must have been one of the worst scripts ever written and is completely unfilmable. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is the script. Or you can see it as a rant by a man embittered by what he sees as the coming atomic Armageddon. Take your pick.

The screenplay does have a plot, which we will come to, but it is interspersed with a narrator quoting Shelley and Hugo (in the original French!) and generally castigating mankind for its fall from grace. The story is set in the year 2018 after a nuclear Armageddon. New Zealand has been generally spared and a team of scientists from New Zealand comes to what was Los Angeles to see what is happening. What is happening is that the Angelenos have become devil-worshippers and even manage – albeit temporarily – to get one of the New Zealanders, Dr Alfred Poole, a botanist, to join them, with the temptation of nubile young women. The place is a mess. Mutants are being born. If they are too badly mutated, they are killed and their mothers (known as vessels) are punished. It is effectively a Soviet style devil worshipping state. Poole (what a surprise!) falls in love with one of the nubile young women and they escape, with the help of the poetry of Shelley. In the meantime, Huxley rants and raves about the depravity of man. Ho, hum.

Publishing history

First published 1948 by Harper