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)