When it was published in 1928, Point Counter Point no doubt shocked its readers with frank depictions of infidelity, sexuality, and the highbrow high jinks of Aldous Huxley's arty characters. What's truly remarkable, however, is how his novel continues to shock today. True, we may hardly lift an eyebrow at poor Marjorie Carling leaving her husband to live in sin with--and get pregnant by--her lover Walter Bidlake. And the sexual exploits of Lady Edward Tantamount or her daughter, Lucy, seem quite in keeping with the behavior expected of such exalted persons by readers inured to the exploits of the British Royals. If the varieties of sexual experience on display in Huxley's novel seem tame by current standards, his clear-eyed dissection of the motives behind them are thrillingly fresh--and his commentaries on everything from politics to ecology sometimes chillingly prescient. Take for example, the wisdom of amateur biologist Lord Edward Tantamount on the subject of non-renewable resources:
"No doubt," he said, "you think you can make good the loss with phosphate rocks. But what'll you do when the deposits are exhausted?" He poked Everard in the shirt front. "What then? Only two hundred years and they'll be finished. You think we're being progressive because we're living on our capital Phosphates, coal, petroleum, nitre--squander them all. That's your policy. And meanwhile you go round trying to make our flesh creep with talk about revolutions." When his interlocutor, the fascist politician Everard Webley, demands to know whether Lord Edward wants a revolution, Tantamount first asks whether such an event would reduce the population and check production and then, when assured it would, he responds, "'Then certainly I want a revolution.' The Old Man thought in terms of geology and was not afraid of logical conclusions."
Huxley fills his novel with a multitude of characters, from the obscenely wealthy Tantamounts to the priapic painter John Bidlake, his children Walter and Elinor, and their respective mates, Marjorie Carling and Philip Quarles. There is also the venomous Maurice Spandrell, the revolutionary Illidge, the unctuous Burlap, and the happily married (a rarity in this novel) Mark and Mary Rampion, who are the book's moral center--theirs is the one relationship that combines reason and passion in proper measure. They are purportedly in part based on well-known figures of the time such as D.H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield. Love, loss, infidelity, and murder are the subjects under discussion as Huxley juxtaposes one point of view against its opposite, and mixes in a healthy dollop of science, politics, religion, and art, as well. Point Counter Point is an intelligent novel about the intellectual world, and one that bears up gracefully under the test of time. --Alix Wilber [via]