Friday, February 25, 2011

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a brilliant book. It’s not just the ultimate dystopian classic. It’s a cultural phenomenon. It gave us Big Brother, the Thought Police and, of course, the adjective Orwellian. I’ve never read anything that can rival Nineteen Eighty-Four for its sheer sense of decay and oppression. There’s not a single page that doesn’t provide a chill of some sort, and that doesn’t hold up a mirror to modern society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four’s relevance hasn’t diminished over time, despite the parallels to twentieth century political figures that might otherwise date it. Sure, Emmanuel Goldstein might be Leon Trotsky, and Big Brother might look like just like Stalin, but you don’t have to know that. You only have to realise that Goldstein may no better than Big Brother, and, most importantly, that Goldstein might not even exist at all. History is written by the victors. It is tweaked, changed, whole parts of it are purged, and Winston Smith knows it, but the truth has been so well hidden that nobody will ever discover it. Not Winston, and not even the reader.

I love Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s a book with a message, but it doesn’t preach. Orwell really had a handle on that old advice for writers: Show, don’t tell. If you don’t come away from reading Nineteen Eighty-Four with a healthy distrust of the government and the media, you’re doing it wrong.

But they should never have made me read Nineteen Eighty-Four at school. I hated this book when I was in school, and this is why:

1.   Newspeak. God, how naff. And what’s all that Doublethink stuff? I’m a teenager. I can’t even hold a single thought in my head, let alone two contradictory ones. Johnny Depp is so hot.

2.  Unattractive hero. The guy was like, totally old, and not at all good looking, with a nasty cough and a varicose ulcer. Who cares what happens to him anyway?

3. This book is too long. And nothing happens. And then nothing keeps happening.

4. Rats aren’t even scary. Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street is scary. This book would have been way better if Freddy was in Room 101 instead of rats.

5. Duh. It’s way past 1984 and this never even happened, so why is this supposed to be such a great book? The writer was totally wrong about everything. Animal Farm was better. It had, like, animals. 

6. Big Brother is so much better on TV.

When I was fifteen I wasn’t ready for Important Books. I was too busy scratching movie stars’ names into the back of my ruler with my compass, colouring in the checks on my school uniform with red pen, and teaching myself how to do bubble writing. I now have a lot of catching up to do.  

Buy Nineteen Eighty-Four here at Amazon.

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