Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

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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.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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72 Responses to Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

  1. lynnsbooks says:

    Animal Farm.
    Hope you’re soon feeling 100% again.
    Lynn 😀

  2. Ahhh I love this novel! I’m about to teach Animal Farm to one of my high school classes, and I have been meaning to read Burmese Days for a long time (it’s sitting on my shelf, waiting for me). Animal Farm is brilliant, and a very quick read too.

    • TBM says:

      That’s another one I haven’t read or if I did I have zero memory of it. How did I get through school not reading either. Enjoy the class discussions! One of the jobs I had way back when was leading reading discussions for Western Civ for first year students in college. It was always fascinating to see how different people approach and react to the same work.

  3. niasunset says:

    I am glad to hear you dear TBM, wished to feel better soon. Thanks and Love, nia

  4. It’s funny that you should write a review about 1984 because Daniel just finished reading it for his Grade 11 English class and had to write an essay about it. He’s at that age for guys where he doesn’t care for reading much, but he seemed to like 1984. I remember reading it back in high school too and always find it strange that he is learning about the same books I did.

    I’m really, really glad that you are feeling better. Just make sure you still get lots of rest to make sure you are totally over it. Oh, and I’m really sorry that you missed the mystery photo :).

    • TBM says:

      I actually knew the photo this time. You set me up–waited for me to get sick and then wham!

      It is funny that some of the books are still required reading. Will that be true 100 years from now? Not sure I’ll be here to find out so let me know.

      • Hey, you’re younger than me, so I don’t know how I’m going to let you know LOL!! I’m sure there will be a few classics that will be around on reading lists forever!

      • TBM says:

        How do you know I’m younger?

      • I thought recently in one of your posts you said something about your birthday and being in your thirties – didn’t you? I’m 47 so I’m pretty sure you are younger than me :).

      • TBM says:

        Do you have proof that you are 47–I don’t believe it one bit. I’m 38, soon to be 39.

      • Yup, my hubby said he cut me in half and counted the rings, and it’s true LOL!! I’m 47, but he’s 50, so he will always be older than me, which I remind him of constantly :). You know what though? I am a firm believer that age means nothing. I don’t feel much different than I did when I was 18, and I still act like a kid sometimes, laughing about silly things and just being all around immature. I think laughing keeps us young – that’s why I love blogging so much :).

      • TBM says:

        I’m older as well and I get teased constantly. I freaked out before I turned 30. On that day I woke up and felt the same. Now I don’t care too much about the number. In fact most of the time I don’t remember how old I am. The better half’s bday is next week and it took us a few minutes to do the math.

      • As we get old and the numbers get bigger it gets harder and harder to do that math doesn’t it? LOL!! 🙂

      • TBM says:

        Math was never my strong suit–there’s a reason I studied history.

      • Well, you can’t be good at everything right? 🙂

      • TBM says:

        But can I be good at one thing? Is that too much to ask.

      • Awww, you’re being too hard on yourself. You excel at many things – I mean, take your blog for instance. It is an inspiration to so many people with the amazing goals you have and the many places you have traveled, and you have a way with words that makes your blog so interesting and fun to follow!! 🙂

      • TBM says:

        Awe, thanks Cindy. That’s nice to hear. Now I’m really going to buy you a beer when you visit London. Before I was lying 😉

      • Be careful what you promise because we are starting to think about a trip to England and Scotland in 2014!! I just have to figure out where to start in planning it :).

      • TBM says:

        Are you planning during the summer…we may be out of town part of that summer for the World Cup. Haven’t made the reservations yet, but it is in the works. I still haven’t been to Scotland, but a friend of ours just moved there. we are waiting for her to get settled before we invade her home.

      • Well, our 25th anniversary will be on June 10th, so I was thinking June, but it will depend a lot on Mike’s work because that’s when they are busiest. I really hope we can do it :).

      • TBM says:

        25 years. Give me a second I need to think about that–wow! I hope it works out. I know how much I struggle working with TBH’s work schedule. Does no one else work in this office who is capable? Seriously. Even sick TBH is at work because there is no choice. I do hope Mike can get the time off–you two need to partay!

      • I know, it seems like just yesterday we got married!! Anyway, he has been at his job for 28 years and has never taken two weeks off in the summer (because they are a very seasonal company), so it should be fine. Actually, he just said that he told one of the owners the other day that he would be off for 2 weeks in the summer of 2014, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. Yayyyyyy!!!!! Now I just need to start planning and saving! 🙂 Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually meet each other in person?

      • TBM says:

        Question: do you go over the top when you plan, like have all the train schedules memorized, bus schedules and have an itinerary, including bathroom breaks, for every day. That isn’t a bad thing by the way. I’m just curious since you are always so organized. I wish I could plan trips better. Do you have pointers? Remember not to scare my unorganized mind.

      • You’re forgetting that this will be the first major trip I’ve ever been on except for the one with Bryan’s school which they planned of course, so that’s why I don’t really know where to start. However, trust me, when I get going it will be super organized :). When I went with Bryan’s school, I had checklists for everything and notarized copies of our passports (since I work in a law firm) in every piece of luggage. I just purchased Microsoft Office 365 which amongst the regular programs has one called OneNote which is fabulous for planning a trip like this. It looks like a notebook on your screen, and then there are little tabs for all the subsections. Doesn’t that sound right up my alley??? I’ll have one section for packing, one for flights, one for hotels, one for our itinerary, and on and on. LOL!

      • TBM says:

        Um, I said take it easy on my unorganized mind. Notarized copies–never thought of that. I need to pick up my trip planning game. You have got to show me all of the stuff when you are done. I’m hanging my head in shame.

    • Don’t be silly :). You obviously have a great system – look at how many huge trips you have gone on!! I think you could teach me a great deal about the travel game :). I need to get on a plane to somewhere hot today. The only problem is that we had such a storm that Toronto airport has cancelled a bunch of flights. I was just outside freezing my ass off taking pictures of the snowplow that got stuck on our street and Mikey plowing everyone’s driveways. What a day!!

  5. I would say not to follow 1984 with Animal Farm. Too much totalitarianism in too short a time. Coming Up For Air, is my thought. It is about an England that has mostly vanished, the trap of nostalgia and well…the rest I leave for you whenever you read it…

    • TBM says:

      That sounds intriguing. He used to live in a house that’s a 15-20 minute walk from my flat. Maybe I’ll find a pub in his hood to read this one. See it his way 🙂

  6. wordsurfer says:

    I only know Animal Farm from these others and it’s great, and, like the others have said, it’s a quick read.

    • TBM says:

      So far many are suggesting Animal Farm. I wasn’t aware of the other titles he wrote besides 1984. So much I don’t know about Orwell.

  7. bocafrau says:

    I may end up reading this one day. It makes me wonder how much of this mirrors the communist regime we lived under in East-Germany.

    • TBM says:

      I’m curious how close this would be to what you lived with. I read a book called The File years ago and was fascinated. It was about an American writer who visited East Germany before the wall fell. There was a file collected on him since he was a writer/journalist. After the wall came down he asked to see his file and learned how many people were involved in following him and what their theories were about his motives for being in East Germany. I can’t remember the real reason, but I think he was visiting a friend. It was a real eye-opener for me to read.

  8. Novroz says:

    Nice to know you are getting well TBM 🙂
    I like 1984 and felt the same as you…the part where Winston read that history book is boring, I skim a lot on that part but I love the rest of it.
    People said Animal Farm is really good…I am planning to read it one day.

    I am going to visit Carl’s blog now…I am currently reading War of The World, it can be included in his book event 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I’m looking forward to hearing about War of the Worlds. I’ve always wanted to read that one. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t like the history lesson in 1984. Maybe if all of those details were explored in a discussion between two or more characters it would have been better. I read a lot of political theories in school, don’t want to read them in novels.

  9. Glad to hear that you are feeling better but wish it was all the way better! Hopefully that will come quickly.

    I’m like you in that I have always thought this sounded like a rather boring novel when I heard or read it described. I am sometimes shocked that I managed to get through all my schooling without being forced to read this. That being said, and I’m not just being flattering here, your review is the first that makes me think “hmmmm…I might actually enjoy reading this”.

    Kudos to you for overcoming your dread and for putting together an intriguing review.

    • TBM says:

      There are many books that make me wonder how great my education was in my younger days. Each time I’m reading one of these books the better half says, “Oh that’s a good one, I read it when I was in school.” Thank goodness for libraries to help round out my reading.

      I was pleasantly surprised when I liked this work overall. That one part dragged. Overall I found it fascinating, especially since I kept thinking of Wild Swans and how spooky the connections were. People actually had to live under these conditions–that’s terrifying.

  10. Like wordsurfer, Animal Farm is the only one of those that I have read. I like your reviews because of your honesty about what works and doesn’t work for you.

    • TBM says:

      I feel a little bad about saying I don’t like this part, but that’s how I feel. Some people may like how he handled “teaching” the history. I found myself tuning it out. Good thing I don’t have to write an essay on the political theory in 1984 🙂

  11. mairedubhtx says:

    1984 is a cautionary tale. Yes, some parts are boring but it is basically what life is like under a totalitarian regime. You wrote a good review. For your next Orwellian book you should read Animal Farm. It is completely different and I think you’ll like it. It’s good.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks. I’ll see if the library has a copy–I’m pretty sure it will. Orwell used to live in this neighborhood. It would be a shame if the library doesn’t appreciate that fact.

  12. This book scared the life out of me when I first read it aged about 14 (although I do agree with you about some of the tedious bits…I do confees to finding Goerge Orwell a bit dry…am I allowed to admit that?!). Go for Animal Farm! Glad you are on the mend….

    • TBM says:

      Yes you can admit that he’s a bit dry. Some of the reading wasn’t fun at all. But overall I liked it and I would never want to live in a society like this. That point was clear.

  13. nrlymrtl says:

    I haven’t read this book since gradeschool…. along with Animal Farm. At the time, I felt that these two books were pretty heavy for 12 year olds, and I haven’t picked them up since. As an adult, I think I would get a lot more out of them, so perhaps I should put them back on my TBR list. Great review.

    • TBM says:

      I have to wonder if it was wise for the school to have 12 year olds read it. It might turn some off from reading. But you never know. I hated reading some of the books I had to and I’m still an avid reader.

  14. hillarypat says:

    I’ve been meaning to read this book for awhile. My sister read it for school and hated it so I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it! The comparison with Wild Swans is especially interesting as that book has been on my to-read list for forever. I read animal farm in high school and I remembered enjoying it, I haven’t read any of his other novels though so I can’t give you suggestions about those. I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better!

    • TBM says:

      Yes, read Wild Swans. I heard her speak last year and then I read her book. I think she’s working on a new one–not sure when it will be published. And I want to read her bio on Mao. I don’t know much about him, but she made it clear she wasn’t fan.

  15. Sorry to hear you have been unwell. I somehow missed that. I hope you are back to full vitality soon.

  16. Patricia says:

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend! Rest, rest and more rest.
    I re-read 1984 not too long ago, and watched the movie. I enjoyed both. Animal Farm is great but I agree with Quotidian, maybe not right after 1984 (unless you like to follow themes) I just read Wide Sargasso Sea, then decided I should probably read Jane Eyre.

  17. petit4chocolatier says:

    I am glad to hear you are beginning to feel better. I love Sci-Fi. This does sound intriguing 🙂

  18. Very glad to hear you’re on the mend. It sounds like the flu going around this year really knocks you flat. Hoping we don’t get it.
    I read 1984 and Animal Farm, and found them well-written, but so depressing.
    The book about East Berlin sounds very intriguing!

  19. Caroline says:

    I liked Animal Farm better tan 1984 but I don’t remember all that much. I’ve read them in my teens.
    I’m glad you’re better and unfortunately back at work. 🙂

  20. Fergiemoto says:

    Glad you are on the mend!

  21. i’ve read them all and animal farm is my least favorite for what it’s worth.

  22. 최다해 gongjumonica says:

    Nice review and I hope to read this book. It is sitting in my TBR pile.

  23. I’ll just comment on the book.

    I read it in school I think, and a number of things jump out at me. (I haven’t read the book in a long while, and I may also be mixing it up with Animal Farm)

    First, Orwell spends a lot of time coming up with odd use of language, especially ways of saying things. For example, he used the prhase: all are equal, but some are more equal than others (though this may have been in Animal Farm.

    There’s also: double-ungood. (tax-increase=revenue enhancement)

    Second, I really remember that the world was in a state of constant war between three superstates, or blocks. The purpose being to keep the populace distracted from the evil the state does by justifying it as required for national security.

    I can’t help but feel that we’ve moved in that direction. The whipping up of supposed enemies was to support our leaders against, has been reality in much of the recent ‘war on terror’.

    Think about how often, war is used the metaphor or model by the government: War on Terror; War on Drugs; and so on.

    It’s kind of chilling. Much of it was a commentary on Stalin’s Russin, and Uncle Joe’s been dead for while, but it still rings true today.

    • TBM says:

      His focus on language was fascinating for me. Getting rid of words to make it more simple–another way to control the masses by taking away the ability to express themselves clearly and by using a plethora of words. I can’t remember all of the words they eliminated or added to do this.

      And I found the book terrifying since some of it rings true today even though it was written decades ago. Not only do some societies still live under big brother but as you say, warfare is used to whip of patriotism and support in many areas. For these reasons, I think it’s important for people to read this novel. And I enjoyed it.

  24. I’ve been wanting to read this one for so long! It really is a classic.

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