Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

3*

I bought a paperback copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four (its original title) in 2008, but have only just read it. It is George Orwell’s last novel, written in 1948 and presents his vision of a dystopian society, a totalitarian state complete with mass surveillance, where individuality is brutally suppressed.

Synopsis from the back cover:

In Orwell’s frightening vision of the future, society is under the control of Big Brother. Every aspect of life is closely monitored, whilst any hint of unorthodoxy is ruthlessly suppressed by the Thought Police. The Ministry of Truth, where Winston Smith works, is the Party’s Propaganda Machine. A secret rebel, Winston yearns for liberty and finds new hope when he falls in love with the earthy, uncomplicated Julia. Instead he discovers a nightmare world of terror where the price of freedom is betrayal.

Winston Smith’s attempt to find liberty and individuality plunges him into a truly horrific version of hell. The world is ravaged by war with three superstates, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia battling for total control. Winston lives in Airstrip One (Britain) in Oceania. His job is to rewrite history and destroy the old records, in accordance with the current circumstances. He secretly opposes the Party’s rule, led by the mysterious Big Brother, and dreams of rebellion. But faced with the Thought Police, the Hate Week sessions the surveillance through the television screens, cameras and hidden microphones monitoring his every move and thought, he realises it is a futile hope and that he is likely to be caught.

This really is the most depressing book and in places it is boring, especially in the middle section of the book devoted to Goldstein’s book. Goldstein, the leader of the Opposition Party to Big Brother, is always the subject of hatred at the Hate Week sessions. There are also passages that I could hardly bear to read – torture scenes that I did not want to visualise – it is a harrowing book. But it was interesting to see where the terms, Big Brother is Watching You, Room 101 (you do not want to be sent there!) Thought Police, Newspeak, Doublethink, holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time, and Thoughtcrime originated.

Nineteen Eighty -Four has received very many accolades and 94% of the people who have rated it on Goodreads ‘liked’ it – 79% giving it 5 or 4 stars .This is possibly the least enjoyable book I’ve read, horrific in content, lacking in convincing characterisation, and has a poor plot. It is depressing and dreary in the extreme, but I can see why it can be considered a brilliant book in its depiction of a dystopian society. It is seriously thought provoking!

‘George Orwell’ was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950). He ‘was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.’ (Goodreads)

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

A thriller set in a world which has spun to a halt, bringing civilisation to the brink of collapse

The last day

Cornerstone| 6 February 2020| 432 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 5 stars

It’s not often I read dystopian fiction, a bit wary that I won’t like it, but I’m glad to say that I was fascinated by The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. I’m not sure about the plausibility of the concept but I was gripped by the story of a world coming to an end and the effects that had on the planet and the population.

A white dwarf star, the size of earth but two hundred thousand times as dense had barrelled through space, and travelling at two thousand kilometres a second its trajectory and gravity had dragged the earth backwards. The earth’s rotation had gradually slowed and eventually came to a full stop. Chaos followed, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and gales swept the earth’s surface, but gravity still functioned as the planet was still the same mass and exerted gravitational force. As the planet stopped on the dawning of the last day in 2029 the boundaries of day and night were locked in place, with a slender ring of borderlands that varied between total darkness and a fractional glimpse of light. Europe was in the constant light of the sun with an isolationist Britain on the warm side far enough in to raise crops but far enough out to still be habitable.

Set in 2059, thirty years after the earth had finally stopped spinning The Last Day presents a totalitarian world, and gives such a vivid picture of what life has become for the people who live on the burning sun side of the planet. There is, of course, no night, but there is a curfew during the ‘night’ hours.  I warmed to Ellen Hopper, a scientist working on a rig two hundred miles off the south-west coast of England in the North Atlantic, where it is always dawn, as she studies the ocean’s currents. She receives a letter from Dr Edward Thorne her old college tutor at Oxford who is dying. He has something important to tell her, information that would ruin the British government and that they would do anything to keep hidden. Prior to his appointment at Oxford he had  been a scientist and an adviser to the British Prime Minister, Richard Davenport, until he had been ignominiously sacked. 

What follows is Hopper’s search to discover the details of this secret, interspersed with flashbacks to her past and her family history, in particular about what happened to her parents, her relationship with her brother, who works in security, her fears that she shouldn’t trust him, and her ex-husband David. It is full of political intrigue and danger with a high body count and builds to a dramatic conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed it, was glued to the pages and by the end of the book I was convinced of the reality of this implausible world (at least I hope it is). 

Andrew Hunter Murray, is a writer and journalist from London. The Last Day is his first novel. when he’s not writing fiction he works for the TV show QI, as one of the ‘Elves’ finding out Quite Interesting facts about everything under the sun. He also co-hosts the podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, and write jokes and journalism for Private Eye, the UK’s leading satirical magazine. No Such Thing As A Fish has also led to a spin-off TV series, No Such Thing As The News, and three books co-written with his colleagues on the show – the Book Of The Year, The Book Of The Year 2018, and the Book Of The Year 2019.

He is already working on his next novel idea. I definitely want to read it when he’s finished it!

Many thanks to Cornerstone for a review copy via NetGalley.