Any One Book: Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Well, this is a very, very daunting book to review. Most writings read in the shadow of Orwell’s masterpiece will only pale in comparison and, for anything daring to review it, there is always the temptation to sound intelligent. I’m afraid the best I can do is honesty.

I’m sure everyone knows the basic gist of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The book follows Winston Smith, a member of the outer party. He rebels quietly, forever weary of the apparently omnipotent thought police. He goes through the motion of his dystopian society, not really loving the authority – Big Brother – as much as he ought to. There is supposed to be no joy in life, yet when he meets Julia a bit of it starts to colour his existence. They struggle together against the oppressive world around them, a society that seems impossible to resist.

It was slow to start, yet the writing had an addictive quality to it. Unfamiliar worlds always pique the interest, but it seems there is always a nugget of reality to them. Whilst reading it, it was eerie to remember that it was actually written years before the story was set. Despite this, I’m sure many people agree, the predictions have an odd accuracy and while today has yet to reach the extremes of Nineteen Eighty-Four there’s a plausibility to it all.

As a character I was not all that fond of Winston, but I think that’s just because as an audience we’re used to our protagonist’s being able to overcome the common pitfalls of humanity. With most stories told today our heroes are able to overcome all sorts of impossible situations and I think one of the genius points in Nineteen Eighty-Four is that Winston tries but cannot quite manage it. Not because he’s weak but simply because he’s human and Orwell didn’t lift him beyond that realistic status.

From the very moment that the scene is set and the world is established it becomes clear that everything is foreshadowing what is to come. There is a sense of inevitability which is hard to shake off and no matter what Winston did or thought, no matter his tiny rebellions, there was never escaping the end and, most importantly. there was never any expectation that he would.

It is an incredibly harsh world, but the thing that makes it most alarming is that it is also incredibly believable. It’s movingly intelligent, sometimes I was lost and didn’t really understand what was being said, but it made it all the more forlorn. Winston had nothing but his intelligence and it was stripped away from him in a sense. The way he viewed the world was becoming incredibly rare, almost unique, and it’s scary to think how easily he was set up for the fall.

Nineteen Eighty-Four has pretty much become ingrained in our society and it’s loved by many a literary fanatic, and it’s not hard to see why. The many points that have been imagined by Orwell and deserve to have been scrutinised by so many people because they’re hugely valid. It is within our nature as society to rule and rise up in rebellion. Just watch the news and you can see it happening everywhere. Thankfully things haven’t gone as far as in the book, but who’s to say that they won’t. I’m aware that I’m treading on old ground here, covering steps that have already been extensively explored, so I won’t linger any longer.

In all honesty, I didn’t like all of it. There was a section where Winston was reading the book that described everything that led to that present moment in time, the reasons society had found itself that way and the only hope that could possibly save it. It became incredibly tedious and sounded more like something I would read at university. I was incredibly thankful when that section ended and the story started up again. While it displayed Orwell’s vast imagination it did nothing for the story.

Overall I am hugely impressed with this book, I would even go far enough as to say awed. To come up with something that has staying power despite the fact that it really takes place in the past is very impressive. Orwell set the bar for dystopian literature and I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and say it’ll be incredibly difficult for anyone to meet his standard.

If you’ve read Nineteen Eighty-Four what did you think of it?

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