2010: 65. 1984

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

1984, George Orwell

   I would have bet almost anything that I had read 1984.  I marked it as already read on my Modern Library list.  I knew all about Winston, and Julia, Big Brother, Newspeak, and even Room 101.  So imagine my surprise when I went to “re-read” it and realized that it was absolutely new to me.  And imagine my joy, when despite the fact that most of the book had been “spoiled” for me through the collective unconscious, I found that it is not only a foundational text of modern literature, but also, for most of it, a hell of a read.  Which is a long way of saying that I loved 1984, at least for the first 2/3, and appreciated it for the rest.

    I don’t think you need me to tell you about 1984 - but briefly, we’re back in dystopia, in a world where a communist/socialist/facist government controls every aspect of the citizenry’s lives, and, of course, Big Brother is Watching You.  What I do want to talk about is, how, unlike most of the great political novels, which work as satire, or as warning signs, 1984 really worked for me as a novel - at least for most of it.  I was surprised, because, well, I really did read Animal Farm, and in the seventh grade I could tell it was pretty clearly agitprop,* and so, while I knew Orwell was known for his prose, I didn’t really think of him as a great fiction writer.  But I really enjoyed the novel, and the character of Winston worked as as a character - not just as a symbol of independent thought in a post-independent thought world.  And while I didn’t care about Julia, per se, I cared about her relationship with Winston.  So when I compare 1984 to, say, Brave New World or Darkness at Noon, both of which are more about their ideas than their characters,** I was totally surprised to see that it’s a book as well as warning tome.  At least at the beginning.  I think that aspect of it falls apart at the end, especially - SPOILER - after Winston is caught and taken to the Ministry of Love.  Then the ideas overtake the story.  And while you can’t really complain, because the ideas are pretty important, I went from loving the book back to appreciating the book, which is always a little bit of a bore.  Still, my overall take away is that 1984 is much, much better than I’d expected, and that now I really, really want to get some more Orwell to read (but, ugh, not Animal Farm). 

Date/Place Completed:  August 2010; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100

*If you can have anti-Communist agitprop

**And both of which the Modern Library rates higher than 1984, a judgment with which I disagree though all three are in the top 20.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017