1921 – crome yellow ~ aldous huxley

I wrote at the conclusion of last week’s my previous review that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was going to be an incredibly tough act to follow.

I was right.

~

Crome Yellow

by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1921

Sitting on my desk next to my keyboard, my copy of Crome Yellow cuts a very svelte figure. At only one hundred and seventy pages, Crome Yellow is skinny. Supermodel skinny. The kind of book you could sit down and read on a sunny Sunday afternoon if you were so inclined.

Appearances, however, can be very deceptive. Never before has such a slim book felt so very, very long.

I’ve read many good books so far in my life. I know what the experience of reading a genuinely good book feels like.

A good book, for instance, shouldn’t make you force yourself to actually sit down and read it. When you’re reading a good book, you shouldn’t find yourself constantly flipping to the last page to find out how many pages you have left to read. And a good book shouldn’t make you wonder if anyone would notice if you skipped a chapter or two…

(For the record, I didn’t. I never do*.)

I had all these thoughts – and more – while reading Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow, his first novel, published in 1921.

Crome Yellow is a book with many, many problems. Even just describing it is fraught with difficulties. The thing with Crome Yellow is that it’s barely even a novel – it’s more like a series of loosely connected scenes. The plot, if you could call it that, centres around Denis Smith. He’s a spectacularly emo young poet, who comes to stay (for no discernable reason) at Crome, a large estate somewhere in the English countryside. During his stay, he’s introduced to a cast of absurd characters, also staying at Crome, and falls hopelessly in love with Anne, the niece of his eccentric hosts, Henry and Priscilla Wimbrush.

And…err…that’s about it. What follows reads like a collection of pointless short stories. In one chapter, the residents of Crome discuss a book they can’t find. In another, the local minister recounts his favourite sermon – in full. Anne and Mary, another young, female resident of Crome, discuss their dreams. We witness Denis’ repeated, almost pathetic attempts to woo Anne. But Anne falls in love with a grumpy painter. There’s a fair, Denis contemplates throwing himself from one of Crome’s towers, then, finally, leaves Crome in disgust. The end. Yes, I don’t usually reveal the plots of books I review, but really, Crome Yellow has no plot to reveal.

But it’s not the lack of a plot that worries me the most about Crome Yellow. The real problem with this book is that there’s nothing else to fill the gaping chasm left by the lack of a coherent plot.

In my experience, in the absence of a plot, the author really needs to pull out something super-special. The characters need to be absolutely captivating, or the writing needs to be absolutely spectacular. However, I found Huxley’s writing unremarkable, and his characters half-baked and utterly, utterly forgettable. Take Denis, for example. He’s the closest Huxley gets to a main character, but never find out why he visits Crome, where he’s from…or much about him at all, really. Other than that he loves Anne and writes poetry.

As I mentioned earlier, Crome Yellow is divided into short chapters; each of which portrays a different scene. Many of these are devoted to characters discussing different ideas and theories. Crome Yellow is a book of ideas, really – it’s just a pity that, for the most part, they’re not interesting or entertaining ideas.

Ultimately, of course, Crome Yellow is intended as a work of humour. Huxley is parodying the very people and ideas he’s portraying. Chances are, they’re based on real people. But for me, the humour of Crome Yellow has lost much of its charm. It falls flat.

Well, most of it, at least. The two chapters devoted to tales from Crome’s eccentric, often scandalous past were quite amusing. In the first story, for instance, Crome was run by a dwarf named Sir Hercules, who filled Crome with a population of dwarves. And I enjoyed the eccentrically-named Mr. Barbeque-Smith, a new-age guru who appeared towards the beginning of the novel…and then, unfortunately, disappeared.

I found Huxley’s writing was more appealing when it was dealing with people, not ideas. I can understand and sympathise with unrequited love. That’s what I want to read about. But I am not interested in one character’s ramblings about population control. I realise that Huxley is parodying these ideas, these characters, but knowing this doesn’t make Crome Yellow any more interesting.

What is interesting about Crome Yellow, however, is that Huxley parodies the very same ideas he was to use later in his career, as the basis for his most famous work, Brave New World, published in 1932. It’s also interesting that Huxley portrays his female characters as independent, intelligent and sexually liberated. These are not chaste, timid lay-deees. The two main female characters of Crome Yellow discuss which of the men of Crome they will pursue – and they go after their prey without hesitation. Look out, boys.

The thing with books is that, like anything else, some books age better than others. While some books have the amazing ability to hold their appeal for decades, to keep readers intrigued for centuries after they were written, other books…just don’t. They’re a product of their time; bound firmly in the here-and-now. And that’s fine; these works serve a definite purpose.

In my opinion, Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow offers the modern reader very little. There’s no plot, no memorable characters, no satisfaction – and only a few, fleeting moments of wit. I realise that Crome Yellow is meant to be a work of comedy, a satire…however, it’s a joke that, unfortunately, is totally lost on me.

~~

Official Book to the Future Rating:

Superawesome! – Awesome – Okay – Blah – Superblah!

Should I read it?

No. Trust me, you’re not missing a thing.

In a word:

Charmless.

Author: Michelle

Reader, writer, wannabe. Literary critic (with training wheels on). Blogging my way through the 20th century’s classic novels in chronological order.

20 thoughts on “1921 – crome yellow ~ aldous huxley”

  1. Some books do date horribly, and I can see how Huxley could be a bit of a drag. I’ve only read Brave New World, but it’s a book that you appreciate more than you enjoy, and only because you understand its place in the dystopian canon. Similarly, I read The Outsider recently, and though I can see how it was groundbreaking at the time, I can’t really say that I enjoyed it or thought that it was anything special reading it now with all that has come after it.

    I’m glad you wrote such an illuminating review of this one, though–I can pretend that I’ve read it without having to! ;)

  2. It’s so easy to review books when you utterly hate them (c:

    I actually really enjoyed The Outsider – but that’s because I’m fascinated by the whole existentialism thing. But yes, not exactly an enjoyable book – it’s really effing depressing, actually.

    Thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoyed my review!

  3. Just finished this today, and yeah I was definitely checking how many more pages I had to go…constantly. As I sit here with my cat named Huxley on my lap, we’re both very disappointed!

  4. I am so very happy it’s not just me who found this novel supremely dull. I always feel like a bit of a tool writing bad reviews!

    Poor Huxley-kitteh. I’d suggest leaving your copy of Crome Yellow around on the floor and encourage him to use it to sharpen his claws…

    I hope the next book you pick up is much, much better than this tripe – and thank you for commenting, Micko!

  5. Thank you Michelle for saying with precise words what I feel about this book. I don’t think you’re mean because you wrote a bad review of it, it is exactly what I was looking for when I decide to surf the web for a kind of comfort to my discomfort! I haven’t finished it yet, but you helped me to look at it from another point of view: the resignation, I don’t have to make efforts, I don’t have to understand.
    However, I am happy this book made me find your really interesting blog.
    Thanks again! Monica

  6. Hi, Monica! Normally I feel bad letting plot details slip, in case anyone who hasn’t read the book I’m reviewing stumbles upon my review, but in this case…yeah. What plot?

    Crome Yellow should have a health warning in the front. If I were you, I wouldn’t even bother finishing it…

    I’m happy you found Book to the Future too – thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  7. Hello, Michelle! I don’t normally leave responses to anything I read on the net, but in this case i couldn’t but express my gratitude to you for such a cosy place in the Web and for a reasonable and detailed review. I’m a Russian student and Crome Yellow is a part of our reading programme, that’s why I’ve been looking for any information about it. Surprisingly, there is not much. To me, the novel was difficult to understand because of allusions and humour which is beyond me. Now it feels like I’ve found some support, so thank you very much!

    1. Hi Kate! Of all the books, they’re making you study Crome Yellow?! How awful! Normally, I’m all for keeping an open mind about books…but not in this case! I hope the next book you study is something worthwhile!

      1. Well, it wasn’t the only book we’ve studied) there were loooooots of them, but Crome Yellow was the last one – I’m finishing the university this year. However, strangely, our teacher seemed to be really fascinated by this one…

  8. Thanks for this review! I feel like I have been given permission to stop torturing myself…I’ve been trying to claw my way through the book, hoping it would prove itself worth the effort.

  9. I’m a quarter way through it now and I completely concur with this review. I can now give up assured my time will not be further wasted.

  10. Thank you for saving me the time of reading this book. After reading a few chapters, I was wondering if I should continue. Brave New World was good, so I thought . . .

    1. Hi Lisa. I remember reading your excellent review when you posted it and being too sheepish to chime in with my own thoughts! Though I can still confidently say that this book wasn’t for me, I’d be hesitant to write a review that’s as dismissive as my own. Yours was far more considered (and, let’s face it, mature) than my own.

  11. Contrary to most I enjoyed this book. Possibly because I am old.
    I am a keen student of English country house life.
    I saw the novel as a parody of country house life at Garsington Manor, home of Lady Ottoline Morrell where authors such as Huxley and T. S. Eliot used to gather and write.
    The readers in the 1920s would have been aware of this and enjoyed it, unlike you.

Something to say?