The Fountainhead - Book Review

How I was introduced to the book.

The Fountainhead was one of the first books that I read which made me stroke my short philosopher’s beard. I had not ventured into the philosophy genre earlier, expecting it to be too dull and boring. This book has completely shattered my misconceptions and I’ll definitely be growing the beard longer(till perhaps I can match the likes of my fantasy genre heroes: Dumbledore and Gandalf).

Actually, I had not planned to read the book at all. Just that one day while enjoying a long walk through the Mall Road in Mussoorie, I came across the Cambridge Book Store, which apparently was frequented by the famous writer Ruskin Bond every weekend. It had been a long time since I had read an actual hard copy of a book(I’ve been listening to audiobooks for the past 4-5 years). After scrolling through my to-read bookshelf on goodreads, I picked up The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The book had been suggested by few of my seniors earlier and the scenic beauty of Mussoorie felt just right to dive into the philosophy genre. Little did I know that the deep and a bit dark ideas contained in the book I held were in stark contrast to the cheerful Mussoorie weather outside.

After returning back to the hotel room I decided to spend the whole night reading. I set my chair in the balcony which had an amazing view of the Dehradun Valley. I was awake till 5am reading the book after which I finally went to sleep.

The surroundings were perfect for reading: sitting outside in the balcony overlooking millions of yellow lights shimmering in the valley below and millions of white lights shimmering in the sky above with a light cool breeze blowing and rustling the leaves in the trees nearby. Oh! What I would not give to go back to that moment…

The book seemed to be good till then. The character traits of Howard Roark, Peter Keating, Guy Francon, Henry Cameroon, Dominique etc. had been clearly outlined and I did not expect them to change much throughout the book. After coming back from Mussoorie, while going through some of the Last Week Tonight’s episodes, I came across this…

I was completely taken aback! I had not expected the book to have been such a controversial one. After doing some more search, I found out how strong the views expressed in the book were. Anyways, I continued reading the book. I alternated between listening through the audiobook and reading the hardcopy of the book. It took me around 50 days to complete the book. I read slowly, trying to take in every word in the book. I had assumed that philosophical books would demand that.

The Book Review

The book starts by showcasing the struggle of the protagonist Howard Roark, who is trying to pursue a career in the field of Architecture. He is met with rejection almost everywhere while his colleague, Peter Keating, steadily rises. The reader cannot help but feel sorry for Roark who is obviously more skilled and creative than Peter, but due to the society’s bias against modern architecture, he is ultimately reduced to no one. Few people recognize his talent and creative genius and hire him. Slowly and steadily he starts designing some of the most unique buildings devoid of all the classical structures like domes and arches. He designs skyscrapers and other apparently incongruous buildings. Roark has only one condition: His work done his way. Ayn Rand tries to explain Roark’s thought process while designing the buildings like how the buildings should be one with the surroundings, and how it should reflect ..deep stuff here… I don’t buy these arguments made by Rand, but then it may be because I don’t understand architecture at all. Portions like these wherein Rand appreciates art and architecture are completely lost on me and I feel they tend to drag the novel.

I almost gave up the novel when it seemed to be dragging too much. There were gaps in my reading. I would give up the novel for a week or so and then pick it up again hoping to find the gems of philosophy embedded between the rusty metal which forms the crown that The Fountainhead is.

From the beginning it was clear that these gems of philosophy would be discovered through the actions, dialogues and monologues of Roark, Dominique, Toohey and Wynand. These were the characters who seemed to know some deep truths about how the world and it’s people functioned. Rand always projected these characters as being shrouded with mystery, their actions inexplicable most of the times. She tried a lot to explain their various actions through a remarkably good form of writing, but I still did not understand some of them and thus felt much like Peter Keating when he was reading the works of Lois Cook(an author who wrote complicated books with nothing in them). Still, I carried on due to the stunning dialogue that would ensue between few of these mysterious characters once in awhile.

The plot was pretty interesting and through it, Rand succeeded in preaching the philosophy of self. Roark was portrayed as the ideal man. Roark’s storyline is the one which I found best. His struggle, subsequent rise and then failure and then rise again in the field of architecture was most interesting. Even more was his obvious nonchalant attitude to such things. He cared only about his work. Not money, not fame, nothing else!

There were few love affairs flung in between the plot. Dominique(A woman whose actions I never understood) was at the centre of most of them. After having completed the novel, Dominique is the one character whose motives I could not comprehend at all. Whenever Ayn Rand talked about love, I did not understand what she wanted to tell. Maybe that’s just because I’ve never been in love or Rand was just dragging the novel.

The plot focussed mainly on two professions: architecture and journalism. Architecture revolved around Peter Keating, Howard Roark, Guy Francon, Henry Cameroon etc. while journalism around Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, Dominique etc. Journalists were the ones who held most power. The author has shown how powerful words are. Ellsworth Toohey was able to sell the most outrageously undeserving pieces of literature, architecture etc. to the public just through his column ‘One Small Voice’ in ‘The Banner’. Similarly Gail Wynand would destroy a few people’s self through conniving means, just because had the power to do so.

One thing that I could relate to Roark, Wynand and Cameroon was my love for gazing at skylines, skyscrapers and such, looking at how far mankind has come. I’ve always derived infinite pleasure by looking at these spectacles from far away. For instance: the Dehradun Valley as I saw it from Mussoorie the first time I started reading this book, the view of cities at night as seen from an aeroplane’s window, standing at the rooftop of a tall building and looking at the rest of the city at night etc. This also explains the cover photo of my blog: a person gazing at the at a skyline.

Near the end of the novel, there are few absolutely stunning pieces of monologues. My favourites are the one by Toohey when he visits the broken Keating, and the one by Roark in front of the crowd. I suspect I’ll be reading these many times over in the future. They have been written in a magnificent manner by Rand. She may be opposed because of her philosophical ideas, but no one can dare deny her professional skill after having gone through these monologues.

Overall, the book had a few mind-bogglingly awesome pieces of philosophy that were easy to understand among others which were either too deep, or were written purposefully to create a sense of mystery and weren’t supposed to be understood. Ayn Rand has done a great job of combining her philosophical ideas with an apt plot and characters. At times the novel seems to drag too much, but otherwise if one makes it to the end, then it sure proves to be worth it. I would definitely recommend this book to others, if only for the philosophical gems which I found in it. I’m not sure whether I agree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy or not, but then again I don’t have strong views about anything yet(that’s what I hope to work on by reading more philosophical novels). I don’t really see myself reading The Fountainhead cover to cover in the future again, but I am definitely going to read few of the amazing monologues and dialogues which blew my mind, and hopefully increased the length of my philosopher’s beard.