Before getting to the review I want to say thanks to everyone who dropped in last week to wish me well. I’m still pretty exhausted but unfortunately I’m well enough to get back to work.
George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian science-fiction novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is one I’ve dreaded reading from my 1001 list. I had it in my mind that it would be boring. Yet, it’s on the list so I decided why not get it over with. If I save all of the novels I don’t want to read to the end it will be it much more difficult to cross the finish line. Also, Carl is hosting the Science Fiction Experience so I thought why not.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the novel before I pulled it off the library shelf. I resisted the urge to read the back cover so I wouldn’t be tempted to put it back. I was determined to get it out of the way. Not the best attitude I know.
For those not familiar with the story, its set in Oceania, a society that is controlled by the Party and its ideology. Oceania is perpetually at war, and all of its citizens are closely watched by Big Brother. Even their thoughts are not their own and the Thought Police make sure “radicals” are dealt with.
Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, lives in London. He works in the historical revisionism department. Every time the Party changes its story or stance, Winston alters past statements, photographs, and news reports so no evidence contradicts current political doctrine. He enjoys his job, but he’s not happy with his life. His rebellion begins when he buys a journal. He writes: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death.” Winston starts having an affair with a woman named Julia. She is a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, which initially turned Winston off. However, he learns that Julia loves having affairs with numerous men. That is her form of rebellion against the Party. Initially, they are cautious about their relationship. Then they find an apartment they can use for their meetings. Life becomes more bearable for the two. Winston meets O’Brien, an agent of the Brotherhood, a clandestine counter-revolutionary organization bent on annihilating the Party. Winston hates the Party and wants to do his part to destroy it. Can the all-controlling Party be destroyed?
There was much that I enjoyed about this novel. I went in thinking I would hate it and it turns out for the majority of the time I couldn’t put it down. Last year I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang, which is a biography of her grandmother and mother and her own autobiography about life in China before and during Mao’s regime. While reading Orwell’s novel I kept noticing eerie similarities even though Orwell published this work of fiction in 1949. Growing up in America, it’s hard for me to imagine life under a totalitarian regime. Orwell’s story made me awfully uncomfortable on many occasions and it made me appreciate the rights and privileges I grew up with.
While I enjoyed learning about Winston and his desire to be free, one aspect of the novel got a bit tiresome for me. At one point, Winston is given a book to read that explains the history of Oceania and the revolution. Many of the pages of the novel contain passages from this book. For me I found it tedious reading. I don’t know how an author can get around this problem since knowing the history of the Party is imperative to the story, but just citing political theory became a bit too much. After wading through this part, I enjoyed the novel again.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. He has four more novels on the 1001 list: Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air, and Animal Farm. Any suggestions on which one I should read next.