A while back now I set upon the idea of trying authors that I have always felt I should have read yet had been daunted by, yet starting with some of their shorter works. ‘Anthem’ is by far and wide the shortest work that Ayn Rand ever wrote. In fact it is for her much more famous ‘The Fountainhead’ (at a substantial 752 pages) and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ (at a whopping 1184) that Ayn Rand is most probably known by many. I also liked the sound of it because it had a dystopian edge and I am also trying to dip my toes in the world of science fiction as and when the mood takes.
‘It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!’
Written in a tunnel which no one else is found this is the how Equality 7-2521, who we will call simply Equality from now on, starts telling us his story. His world is one that is both familiar and unfamiliar world in where society has changed and free thinking is banned. Equality is different from everyone else though and has been told ‘we are born with a curse… we know that we are evil’ as well as physically being 6ft tall which is again seen as freakish and ‘a burden’. Initially I have to admit that as he refers to himself as ‘we’ all the time it did take a while for me to really that Equality was a singular person, but then again in the world he lives being independent minded is not something that is promoted.
Ayn Rand has you intrigued from the very start with ‘Anthem’, and as you read on this is a world which is in many ways a very familiar one and also such an unknown quantity too. You want to learn the new hierarchy of this society from its ‘Home of the Street Sweepers’ to the ‘Palace of Corrective Detention’ and I was particularly keen to learn more about the ‘Unmentionable Times’. Yet my interest started to fade. In part it was the use of language the never end ‘we this’ and ‘we that’ started to grate, by the end of the novella I could see why she had done this yet while I appreciated what she was doing it was rather an effort not to put the book down due to the irritation of the repetition. I didn’t though and did go on in part because finally when Equality meets Liberty 5-3000 (or ‘the golden one’ as he calls her) we start to get a plot that moves and intrigues a little more. And yes, note how they are called Equality and Liberty, that didn’t hit me for a while possibly as my mind kept focusing on ‘we’ every sentence.
‘Anthem’ did sort of save itself in the end, though as I don’t want to give anything away I can’t really say why. I thought mid way through that I should give up because I wasn’t really enjoying it as much as I had hoped and I felt I had read this before. I should say even though it does sound very ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ like and Orwellian ‘Anthem’ was in fact written before that, it seems like what has come since has rather bettered it whilst extending on it. If ‘Anthem’ had been a novel it probably would have bitten the dust with me. As it was only 112 pages I just kept on, even though they were a long 112 pages if I am being totally honest. After finishing it I am not sure I would rush out and read any more Rand, as while I liked the ideas behind the book I didn’t really care for the execution, even though when I had finished it I was strangely glad that I had read it.