FICTION

Book review: Ideal by Ayn Rand - a tedious, crude and artless exposition

Rand's unpublished novella is a perfect example of her unsubtle and cultish worldview.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm
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Serial abuse of philosophical jargon is central to Ayn Rand's oeuvre. So let's call it a gesture of minor respect to say that it is "ontologically" impossible to read any book of hers without engaging with her essence.

She clearly wanted it that way, given that expressing her own philosophy was her main reason for writing fiction at all. There is no great mystery to Rand: like concrete buildings, her books are schematically composed. They are structured as arguments, not stories. You are meant to know exactly what they stand for.

Rand never sought to hide this approach to writing, and even bragged about it. "I can give the reason for every word and every punctuation mark in Atlas Shrugged," she once said in a lecture on how to write fiction, "and there are 645,000 words in it by the printer's count."

Ideal, the "new" Ayn Rand novella reprinted this week by the New American Library, contains considerably fewer words and thus, one might deduce, fewer "reasons" than Atlas Shrugged. Maybe that's why Rand never published it as a book, but shoehorned it into a play.

Rand wrote Ideal in her early 20s. Yet Leonard Peikoff, Rand's heir, gives it the gloss of deeper thought by adding a ponderous introduction on the "epistemological difference between the two literary forms". He then natters on about concepts and percepts. All he means is that the thing works better with visuals.

Perhaps, but in this edition, the play script is included along with the novella. I can't say it seemed any more like art than its prose twin.

The heroine, if the book has one, is a ravishing actress named Kay Gonda, who is a fugitive from a murder rap. We follow her as she hides out with six men, a nice, tidy, symmetrical number. Each of these men has been chosen because he has written a gushing fan letter to Kay, and each wears the straitjacket of stereotype. We have a downtrodden businessman, a cornpone farmer type, a sinking hedonist, a tortured artist and so on.

Kay represents an ideal to these men. There is no real content to her "ideal", though, other than her physical beauty. The only marginally clever device is that each chapter is preceded by the fan letter that wags on about what she looks like.

That doesn't lend itself to much dramatic conflict. By the time you get to the end you are longing for just one hint of subtlety. But then, Rand didn't really believe in that.

Ideal by Ayn Rand (NAL)

The Guardian