Fountainhead and why I couldn’t get through it

You’ve probably heard of the novel – The Fountainhead – by Ayn Rand. Everyone and their dog were recommending it to me when they heard I was doing architecture. But no – yours truly had gone one step ahead and had ordered it from Flipkart already.

Finally laying my hands on the book a few months back, proceeded to read the book to be taught a few lessons in architecture by the spotless Howard Roark. The next few days were a case of must-read-book-even-if-boring-giving-up-is-a-crime kind of attitude. I managed to reach around 400 pages or so, then gave up. A couple weeks back, started again from the beginning. Now I can’t reach even 200.

So why do I dislike The Fountainhead? (‘Hate’ is probably a very strong word)

The primary reason is the main character, of course. Ar.Howard Roark. If there ever was a character I couldn’t relate to at all in a novel, it would be him. The first of all, is his maddening superiority over everyone else – the environment included. Picture this –

He always looked at people and his damnable eyes never missed a thing, it was only that he made people feel as if they did not exist.

I could go on quoting many more examples, but I don’t want to open the book again. Every time, with a new character interacting with Mr.Roark, it’s the same drill. He/she feels Howard to be properly attentive, but displaying about as much emotion as a doorknob. Or in the case of the person who commissions Howard to build his first house (the name escapes me), it is quite similar – he finds Howard to be a good friend intellectually but not emotionally. And oh – to ensure that Howard Roark’s achievements were not purely academic, the author goes so far to make him a plumber, stone cutter, woodworker, mason and what not. You name a job in construction, he would’ve done it. Thank God Howard was not a scientist – he would’ve made Einstein lose sleep with his achievements.

By creating a character raised in a pedestal like this – she creates an instant disconnect with the reader. In fact, the character I could identify more with is actually his nemesis, Peter Keating. And don’t even get me started on Howard’s ‘love’ interest – Dominique Francon – a character as plastic if you could ever have on. She’s beautiful, talented, tra la la and all that bullshit, and at the same time is supremely disinterested in the world. In fact, she dislikes beauty in the traditional sense because she thinks the world in general is not mature enough to appreciate it or have it.

Something tells me the two main characters should get off their high horses.

Was Mr.Howard Roark suffering from the architect’s ego?

And there is the author’s tiresome style of writing, of course. The 200 odd pages I read had pretty much the same theme – the world against Howard Roark. And supremely detailed descriptions of incidents which highlight this. It is one man’s vision against the herd mentality of the architect crowd in general, apparently.

I’ll probably never give a shot at reading thatย book again.


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5 thoughts on “Fountainhead and why I couldn’t get through it”

  1. Good one sarat. For a long time I’ve been wanting to explain to a lot of ppl why fountainhead isn’t “the best book ever written for architects” and a “must read” and all. Now I can show this to them and give my mouth a rest. I don’t hate the book like you do, but I wouldn’t call it a good read either. Good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Howard Roark might neither be an amiable person nor a social man but he is definitely an inspiring and creative architect. We might not be able to call him an “architect” in that society in which he lived because the way people perceived architecture was totally different from what he did. Even when the Monalisa was first painted by Da Vinci it was not accepted by all. It was just that Howard Roark was “an architect of the modern era” and his buildings rose a little earlier than the time.
    Even his courage to raise his voice for something which he believes in even if it means he will have to drop out from school is not something which we find in everyone. His defence for his works at the court in the climax will always be one of my favourite part. It is true that the book is dragging a bit ( YES IT IS A LOT BETTER THAN OTHER AYN RAND BOOKS) it is worth reading. Roark is indeed a complex personality who cannot be understood completely . In fact I doubt if anyone can ever understand him completely. If he was way simpler then he himself might not have existed.
    Peter Keating is indeed another interesting character. Although we might feel pity for him for neither having an individuality nor the guts to raise his voice against his domineering mother he is way too selfish and narrow-minded that we might even loath him towards the end.
    True that Fountainhead is boring in the middle but the way Howard Roark comes up in life will always be an inspiration . Whenever I become late for my design submissions somewhere from my unconscious mind Howard Roark pops up with rays of hope. He might be boring and egoistic but definitely he has a reason to have a n ego compared to Francon or Keating. It is not that Roark was obsessed with architecture that he wanted to try a hand in every field related to it. It was the circumstances of his life that turned him into those. Now what do I love about Roark? I love exactly the same. His ignorance to the society. Society and the social appearance is something which I think no one can completely ignore. We do often do things just to please others. Maybe that is exactly what made him the architect of a new era. His guts to stand by what he truly believes in. His confidence in himself. All these traits do truly make him an admirable man. People might find him difficult to accept because he is not a true definition of an “architect” in that age.
    The views of Ayn Rand and Howard Roark might not be agreed upon. Fountainhead might not be the best book written on architecture but still it has got plenty of stuffs to interest any layman to the amazing field of architecture.

  3. @Anjali – I don’t think anyone’s contesting Howard Roark’s ego or the right of an architect to have ego for that matter – it is, quite simply, what works as a book. Reading about a self obsessed, narcissistic person for a couple hundred pages didn’t work for me.

    But after your comment, maybe I should give it a try again sometime! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Ayn rand propagated existentialism and the protagonists in this wonderful book just happened to be architects. The tragedy is that because they were that,every architect and architecture student reads it for that and then places themselves with respect to the characters. If you removed the tag architect and replaced it with a doctor the book would in all it’s content most likely be the same. If you read her other books,atlas shrugged, anthem and others you would see her propagate the same philosophy. Yes finally Howard could in real life be an architect and you could love him or hate him from your position.

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