I read this when I was travelling through Europe, and the stark, bleak yet beautiful architecture described by Rand seemed to overlap in my mind with what I saw – cities full of ancient churches next to modern, angular art galleries; snow-covered mountains and snow-covered industrial buildings both rushed past my train windows.
The novel itself is intimidating – in length, font size and prose. I read in fairly short sittings because of its intensity, and the huge amount of characters, each with their own separate yet intertwining storylines. But I relished this; even fairly minor characters were given vivid descriptions, sometimes more than a page in length. Each is so perfectly constructed and believable. It’s the kind of writing that makes you stop, look up and stare into the ether for a bit, wishing you could create something so wonderfully dense.
In this passage from the novel’s first page, Rand describes her protagonist, a brilliant but cold architect, Howard Roark.
“His face was like a law of nature – a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow checks, grey eyes, cold and steady, a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or saint.”
This description foreshadows the dichotomy of feeling you experience towards Roark over the course of the novel – do you despise him, respect him, love him? It also ties in the element of nature, something so critical to his building designs.
I also love how, despite writing this in 1943, Rand completely nailed future architectural design – all about simplicity; lines, glass and corners everywhere. Sometimes I see houses and think that Howard Roark could have designed it himself – and I think this has got to be the mark of a good book.