Author: George Orwell
Genre: Fiction, utopian and dystopian, political fiction, social science fiction
Where I got the book: I purchased this book at Norli.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Winston Smith lives in London, Airstrip One, which is located in the superstate of Oceania. This is a broken city suffering from war conflicts and the aftermath of revolution. The ruling doctrine is Ingsoc (English Socialism) and the Thought Police spy on Party members through the numerous Telescreens installed in every building. All of this happens under the watchful eye of Big Brother, the leader of the revolution whose face is still used as an icon and displayed on posters everywhere. Winston is a middle-class member of the Outer Party and works at the Ministry of Truth, where his main task is to revise and alter historical facts. He is good at his job but feels a tremendous frustration over the Party’s rigid rules. This prompts him to start writing his thoughts and feelings in a diary, thus essentially committing thought crime. He also finds himself drawn to O’Brien, a member of the upper-class Inner Party who Winston is convinced is secretly a member of the Brotherhood, the mysterious underground group that works to overthrow the Party. In the midst of all this, Winston meets Julia, a young woman who works at the Fiction-department at the Ministry, and the two fall in love and begin an affair. They do everything they can to keep their relationship a secret, but Big Brother sees everything…
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
– 1984, George Orwell
“1984” was published in 1949, where 1984 seemed to Orwell as a potential distant yet close enough future where such a vision that is portrayed in the book could take place. Similar to “Animal Farm”, “1984” is at its core a social commentary on how a revolution becomes corrupted by totalitarianism. What impressed me the most while reading this was how Orwell managed to imagine this future world so long before the political and technological advancements of today. He would have to present a world that despite being fictional and above all a cautionary tale, also had to seem familiar and plausible, and I think what Orwell ultimately has created is brilliant. Not only is this a book that should be one of the first books you think about when you hear the word “dystopian”, because it’s a first-class example of dystopian fiction, but it’s also a book you can read at any point in time since its original publishing date and still find relevant.
While the romance between Winston and Julia seemed to appear a bit out of nowhere (I also did not like Julia as a character very much), I did enjoy how different the two of them were, not only in personality, age, and looks, but also in how they rebel against the Party. While they are in it together, Winston strikes me more as the intellectual kind, the one who deeply cares about doing something to end social injustice but who is more of a thinker and ruminator than an active protester, while Julia on the other hand strives to gain just what she wants while not giving much thought to it. She’s bolder and will badmouth the Party and use her body to her advantage, and is thus more physical in the way she rebels. Apart from this dystopian world as a whole I also liked the writing. It’s simple and a lot easier to read than I expected – it’s a bigger book with longer chapters than “Animal Farm” but I still got through it rather quickly. There is also a dreary mood, a sort of constantly grey and rainy atmosphere that shines through in the writing style that I really loved, and it’s something about it that just has you on edge waiting for the inevitable moment where our main characters’ fate takes a turn for the worse.
This was very close to a 5 star read for me, but 5 stars hang higher than the rest and aren’t easily obtained. The only reason I bumped it down (besides Julia’s character) was that it could get a bit repetitive before the climax of the novel is presented, which isn’t until the final part of the book. You sort of get the feeling of starting a whole new storyline in a new setting, making the build-up last too long. There is also a rather long chapter where Winston reads from “The Book”, an illegal book given to him by O’Brien and that is claimed to be written by Emmanuel Goldstein, the much hated but enigmatic leader of the Brotherhood. While this part was interesting it also read too much like a textbook for my tastes, and I’d much rather have read this in shorter excerpts with an appendix for the rest. But, these are overall really only minor negatives that boils down to personal taste.
The year 1984 has long since come and gone but this novel bears relevance, maybe even more so in our day and age than back in 1984. It is rather bleak and nightmarish, and of course all things are presented in the very extremes. It includes several things that will never come to pass today, but a civilian without liberties or rights, or a government with the ultimate power to control everything, isn’t something that is terribly hard to imagine. The horror is recognizable and that is maybe the scariest thing of all.