It is difficult reading a book in adult life that you remember from childhood (although not very accurately in my case a – I clearly have it confused with another book as there were events I thought belonged to this story that did not occur). It is especially difficult when, as an adult, you wonder what the fuss and plaudits were all about. I remember this book seeming alien to me when I read it, but that was part of the appeal. It spoke of a place and of a way of life of which I knew nothing – it could just as easily have been another planet (albeit with a funfair). It still could, but for a whole different set of reasons.
Bradbury’s use of language is florid in places to the point of meaninglessness. It may aspire to the poetic, but poetry has to work for a living, not flap about sounding pretty. Whole chapters (admittedly short) went by and I had no idea what he was talking about or how they advanced the story or developed character or ideas. Some of the misogyny and the use of darkness and deformity as metaphors for evil left me uncomfortable – other than which, I was left emotionally unengaged.
The whole idea of a carnival (travelling fun fair) moving into a small community and acting as a catalyst for a whole host of events could have been richly developed. Instead, it felt hammed up, as if it was beyond Bradbury’s technical range. Indeed, it felt like a gaudy poster, promising wonders that failed to appear.
There is no doubt it has contributed in its own way to the mythologizing of small town USA, and of childhood; but it seems to me that like many books of this nature, it has refused to tackle the reality. It has simply taken what is already a deeply rose-tinted nostalgia and painted another version, this time with gothic overtones. As light entertainment (ignoring those rambling discourses) it was fine. Beyond that it had nothing to say to me.