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Aldous Huxley: Island

After having written a dystopia (two if you count Ape and Essence), Huxley turns to a utopia for his final book. Frankly, he shouldn’t have bothered. Much of the book is an outline of what we would now call new age philosophies, everything from Buddhism and extended families to vegetarianism and holistic healing. Huxley lays it on and, while what he says might be very worthwhile, albeit somewhat impractical, it makes for a very dull novel.

There is a plot. William Farnaby is a journalist who works for a multinational magnate who is interested in oil and copper as well as newspapers. Farnaby is sent to the relatively remote Pacific island of Rendang, ruled by a despotic colonel who has oil which he is willing to sell to the highest bidder. Nearby is the idyllic island of Pala, forbidden to outsiders. Farnaby gets shipwrecked on the island and finds that it is indeed idyllic and Utopian. He learns that the people follow a sort of Buddhist, cooperativist approach, are very happy and healthy, have no hang-ups about sex, are not ambitious or greedy and are happy to keep it that way. The exceptions are the about-to-become Raja and his mother, who want all the joys of capitalism. Farnaby, who is feeling somewhat guilty as he tossed his wife out and she was almost immediately killed in a car crash, is there to get Pala’s oil for his boss but, of course, sees the light. At least he doesn’t fall in love with the princess (not least because there isn’t one.) But it all makes for a dull novel.

Publishing history

First published 1962 by Chatto & Windus