Shrugging off Atlas Shrugged

atlas shruggedI’m fairly confident I’m going to disappoint everyone with this post. Going off of the reviews on Goodreads, all people seem to do when they talk about this book is discuss the politics… and I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna be talking about its literary merit- or lack thereof. Cos *spoiler alert* I did not like this book. And the thing is, there’s a tendency to answer Rand’s attempt at literature with nothing but disdain for her thoughts, when really the question should be is this a book at all? Okay, well it is a book in the technical sense, but I firmly believe this is merely non-fiction masquerading as fiction.

My initial problems started with the fact that *holy hell* I hated the writing style. This waffles between verbose prose and corny moralising. Naturally, it failed to capture my attention and I could think of a million things I’d rather be doing other than reading this (watching paint dry, going to the dentist, clipping my toenails). To give you an idea of the style, it would be only fair to make you suffer through a quote:

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists… it is real… it is possible… it’s yours.”

It is… so dramatic… because I am… typing… like… this. With lots of compound-words so-that you-feel I’ve-made-a-new-word. Okay, seriously people have a go at Maas for using ellipsis too much in her writing- they have clearly not read this book. Anyone that’s read my writing style or seen my taste knows I don’t generally have an issue with fragmentation- but even I think this is too much. Also “not-quite”, “not-yet” and “not-at-all” are lousy inventions.

Hey- if you found that painful, just know I ploughed through 1200 pages of this bilge. And frankly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because this IS NOT AN INTERESTING STORY. It breaks the number one rule of storytelling: don’t bore the reader. Anyone telling you that the concept of a failing rail company is thrilling stuff is pulling your leg. I’m supposed to care… because? Where’s the humanity in this? Sure, the likes of Dickens and Gaskell addressed issues of industry- yet they didn’t exclude the human element. Here, the issues feel too impersonal and the characters are too flat to care about. Take Dagny for instance- here’s one of her thoughtful “gems”:

“Dagny sat at the end of the counter, eating a hamburger sandwich. It was the best cooked food she had ever tasted, the product of simple ingredients and of unusual skill”

#AD Seriously though who thinks like this?!?! I see more subtlety from McDonalds. I just don’t know people that speak like this (and if I do, we’re not friends). It comes to something SERIOUSLY insane when I think Christian Grey has more personality than anyone in this book. Heck- I think this book has less artistry than Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s right- I went there.

As a dystopia, this book fails even more spectacularly. There’s no world building. None. Not only does this not reach the heights of 1984 (or *insert any other dystopia including ones I’m not a fan of*), but it doesn’t even come close. It feels like this is floating around in space that’s vaguely American but not. Forget white room syndrome- Rand went full white universe syndrome (never go full white universe syndrome).

If only that was the only way it failed as a dystopia! Now, I’ve discussed before how books can be propagandistic… to a point. This goes far and beyond a reasonable limit- it is nothing more than a dull diatribe. Propaganda doesn’t have to be entirely lacking in artistic merit; philosophy in literature cannot rely on a mere dab of paint. And that’s what Rand seems to do when she relies on overwrought analogies such as this one:

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

The problem is I’m not lulled by this “enigmatic” statement- one can look right through it and see it makes no sense. Responsibility- as suggested by the Greek image- is not to be shrugged off. Rand cannot even see the contradiction from the image she herself has copied. That would be a good place to talk about stoicism perhaps- not laissez-faire objectivism.

In varying levels of success, this entire book is a lecture. If you are going to read this/have already read it, don’t be surprised to find a fair number of obvious truths scattered in among the endless preaching. But also be prepared for a load of bollocks:

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim.”

Literally no one thinks that. That’s why everyone claims to be the arbiter of truth. At the same time, famous liars in history have won victories over their victims (Hitler, Stalin, Mao). Kinda ironic that this is the most obviously false statement.

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Wowwwww so brave. Okay, I don’t even get how people take the morality of this book seriously at times- being selfless is one of the most important parts of any moral system. I’m not saying that this should to be enshrined into law, but c’mon, don’t push it and pretend like there’s moral value to being utterly selfish.

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”

Ludicrous. There are frequently more than one side to a debate- in some cases, yes, it’s heads or tails, but in others it’s more like rolling a dice. It’s a little extreme (in my view) to assume there’s no such thing as compromise (but then what do I know 😉 )

“I think, therefore I’ll think.”

Lol at how “profound” this is.

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”

*Applause* for stating the bleeding obvious.

And I do understand why people like this book- they don’t care about it as a book, merely as a means to spout philosophy. Except… why don’t you just try Solzhenitsyn? Gulag Archipelago is far more extensive and factual; Ivan Densovitch is shorter and has the emotional punch this is sorely lacking. The problem with this book is ultimately that it tries to fight ideological extremism with another ideology.

As you might be able to tell, I’m incredibly frustrated with this book. Just WTF with this being called a great novel? No, just no. I may already have a contender for worst book of the year (please book gods: don’t let me anything worse than this). People will want me to make moral statements of my own about this book- so here you are: a story without a soul isn’t worthy of being called a novel. This is a lifeless cask of opinions. I’m not often offended by books- but I am on this occasion offended as a reader and a lover of literature.

Rating: banana peel


So dare I ask- what do you think of this book? Fan or hater? Let me know in the comments!


110 thoughts on “Shrugging off Atlas Shrugged

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