The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley

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The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: An easier read this one: short, with a tight plot not overladen with intellectual expansion. Enjoyably read at a single sitting.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Vintage Classics
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784870362

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So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn't so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell.

Of the three I've read recently The Genius and the Goddess is by far the best. Given my aforementioned stance on the works generally, the fact that it is by far the shortest might have something to do with it. It winds up at a concise 120 pages (if you exclude the publishing blurb).

More than that, though, it's relative strength lies in the fact that you don't have to be as erudite as Huxley himself to follow what he's talking about. Ok, you'll get more out of it if you know your Dante, and if you've got your various Greek goddesses properly catalogued, but for once you can skim over all of that academic stuff and read this one for the story.

John Rivers is in his sixties (which is old to the mind that wrote these books – oh how we've moved on) and on Christmas Eve, which isn't particularly relevant unless you want to make the Dickens connection, he settles down to tell his friend the story of his youth. His outpouring is provoked by a recently published biography of the great physicist Henry Maartens.

Rivers had been a lab assistant to Maartens at the height of his fame, but more than that he had been part of the family. It was as much being taken in as one of them that was to shake Rivers' faith in everything he'd been brought up to believe, as it was the love and the affair that were to follow. The love and the affair, should be separated – and it's one of the (im)morals grounding this short story that love can exist without what we euphemistically call 'the affair' and can be devoted and passionate nonetheless – but equally that the passion and the affair can rest on a basis that might (by some) to be thought less than love.

Definitions of things, how we describe them and how we talk about them, make them what they are – or at least what they seem to be. And, Huxley shows us, what they seem to be is what really matters – whether it is an act of love, or of compassion, or a whole religion. For some the act (whatever the act) is merely an act. For others it is a casus belli something to be endlessly debated and argued over a labyrinth of interconnecting guilts and anguishes - all to no good purpose.

In the midst of all of this the author manages a swift and bittersweet aside into the mind of a fourteen-year-old girl – all rhyming love poems and Edgar Allen Poe. Sweet letters and ghoulishly romantic fantasies. If nothing else, anyone who has ever been a fourteen year girl (or a bit younger these days I'd guess) will raise a cringingly reminiscent smile for Ruth.

This one I read at a sitting, and this one I can honestly say I enjoyed.

If this reminds me of anything it is F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night or for similar themes try the classic The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Or for a very different kind of love story that underlines some the themes in a different way, I enjoyed The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

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