London, Penguin, 1989, 326p
Some reviews are extremely difficult to compose: sometimes because the book is pretty rubbish and I have to formulate an articulate way of saying why I didn't enjoy it; but sometimes because the novel is so complex that it takes a while to develop a succinct commentary.
The story of 1984 is so well known it is hardly worth repeating, but in case you have just stumbled upon the Internet because of exchanging a mobile phone for safe passage across the bridge you live under: Winston Smith lives in a dystopia in which your every movement and thought is scrutinised. It is 1984, and the world is split into three states, Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, each vying for power. But Winston has his doubts; he sees through the brainwashing, past the unnecessary war: he sees the structures of power and the manipulation of the everyman.
When Winston encounters Julia, he finds love and peace. Julia is a rebel, subtly defying the rules and expectations outlined by the state. She offers him companionship and a feeling of belonging, and finally Winston sees a way out a way to help a rebellion and create equality.
Some books change you as you read, and I wish I had read this when I was younger, as I might have known less about it and been more open to its effect. And yet, I still found it incredibly invigorating - it angered and inspired me. I felt like Orwell's language was alive, seeping into my subconscious, shaping my thoughts. Although it was a criticism of the society in which Orwell lived, the subject is timeless and universal, exploring the evil of social power structures and greed.
Big Brother is a terrifying concept, watching you all the time; and yet this is the society in which we now live. The power held by a minority is overwhelming, and the extent of their exhortation of the masses is incredible. It is brainwashing to the highest level, with documents being destroyed and history being altered. (As a librarian, this is my worst nightmare!) But as it is happening on such a large scale, I struggled to comprehend how the deception could succeed. Even though much of the written information was being corrupted, those doing the corrupting had to be aware of what they were doing and what the original documents stated, so should have been capable of doing something. But even this Orwell has thought of, and has introduced the concept of doublethink, a concept that feels almost impossible to explain. Perhaps I shall leave that to Orwell and make you read it.
Whilst 1984 scared and angered me, it also made me feel very lucky. Oceania is a dystopia, and however much it reflects contemporary reality, it is not real. In theory, it still could become our reality - Orwell was writing in the 1940s about a future he feared might develop, and of course it still could. What would be fascinating would be to know what Orwell makes of our world now. I speculate he would not be best pleased.