Island, Aldous Huxley’s last novel, marks his return to the science-fiction and fantasy genre, in which he had worked successfully before, particularly in his most famous book, Brave New World (1932). Unlike his earlier excursions into the field, however, Island is a fundamentally optimistic book with a generous view of human potential, if that potential is properly nourished and developed.
Will Farnaby, an English journalist, is recovering from an unhappy love affair when he is recruited by a British presslord to travel to the oil-rich island of Pala in the Indian Ocean. He is to help negotiate a commercial treaty that will allow exploitation of Pala’s natural resources. After a brief stopover on a nearby island, ruled by the dictator Colonel Dipa, Farnaby proceeds to Pala. He is shipwrecked and cast up on the island’s beach.
Once on Pala, Farnaby discovers that the isolated realm is a true utopia, the result of a strange but practical combination that grew out of the meeting during the nineteenth century of the islands Buddhist raja and a down-to-earth Scots doctor the raja had hired to bring modern knowledge to Pala. Quite unexpectedly, but effectively, the two men fused their different backgrounds and imposed them, in a benign fashion, on Pala. Western scientific advances are under the control of Tantric Buddhism. As a result, the society of Pala enjoys the positive results of modern technology but manages to escape technologys more baleful impacts.
Farnaby discovers further that Pala’s culture has removed all the traces of guilt, shame, and antagonism that mark Western culture, especially those regarding sexual relations. On Pala, sexual relations are embraced as a positive, natural force that aids, rather than detracts from, spiritual growth and development. For the first time in his life, Farnaby is able to engage in, even indulge in, sex without a feeling of mingled guilt and disgust.
This utopia, seemingly too good to be true, contains the seeds of its own destruction. The Rani of the island and her son, who has been Colonel Dipas homosexual lover, are plotting with the nearby dictator to seize control of the island and exploit its oil resources. As the novel ends, Colonel Dipas forces attack, and the once peaceful utopia of Pala becomes part of the dictators realm.