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Identityless in Gaza
on 6 December 2011
Kierkegaard warned that in forgetting how we become ourselves we are left more an animal than human. An injunction which Anthony Beavis, the novel's protagonist, evidently pays little attention to with his early denunciation of lost time, "How I hate Proust... forever squatting in the tepid water of his remembered past". Beavis has no past, only the "old corpses of dead Etonions", now remote and unfamiliar. Eyeless in Gaza recounts Beavis' developing detachment from himself and others, and his attempt at reconciliation.
As with all early Huxley novels, the tone of Eyeless in Gaza is willfully bleak. His characters, all flawed, are an unhealthy clot of "oddly hideous hairstyles", "grotesque marriages", and "other hells". Thankfully, Huxley does have his comic moments, but often I found his sombre mood drained any empathy I may have had with his characters, along with the will to carry on reading.
Huxley's experiment with the structure of Eyeless didn't encourage my attention either. The novel simultaneously follows several sub-narratives in a non-chronological series of admissions, with the more difficult, darker revelations kept to the end. The simple sin of adultery, the obvious pain of losing ones mother, predictably loiter the first chapters. And it's only as we learn more about Beavis that he confesses the prime motives behind his personal philosophy of denial.
I found little to inspire in this book. Yes, Huxley's obviously an intelligent chap, but his message appears simplistic, his tone unnecessarily downbeat, and his choice of structure is laborious. Read Eyeless by all means, but if you could only take one book with you on that long long train ride, I wouldn't take this one, really.