Saturday, October 25, 2008

Point Counter Point

Bad people doing bad things, but in a very witty way. That is a brief, if incomplete, summary of Aldous Huxley's novel, Point Counter Point.
It is more broadly a "novel of ideas" with a novelist of ideas, Philip Quarles, at its center surrounded by friends and family whose lives are like those of the monsters that Philip writes about in his journal. Just as Philip decides to structure his novel on the contrapuntal techniques of music (think Bach and Beethoven) the novel Huxley has written is structured in the same way. We are presented with an opening overture of more than one-hundred-fifty pages at a dinner party that serves as an introduction to most of the characters. The remainder of the novel intersperses scenes from their lives, letters from lovers and most interesting, the writings of Philip Quarles, who with his wife spends most of the first half of the novel returning from India and who is the closest to a protagonist that we get. While there is a bit of a literary explosion near the end, this is more a novel of the daily lives of London sophisticates in the 1920s. It catalogues their alternately sordid and ludicrous (sometimes both) erotic adventures, which generally end unhappily.
I particularly enjoyed the wealth of references to literature and philosophy, Huxley's polymathic mind shows through on every page. Among the literary references was the use of Dickens in a way that captures one of his essential character traits, "the appearance of Dickensian young-girlishness" (p. 19). Overall, I found the play of wit and ideas compelling, enough to bear with the bad people and their antics.

Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley. Harper & Row, New York. 1928.

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