After refusing to read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four since my school days – because everyone seemed to be going on and on and on about it and how brilliant it was – I finally decided I ought to read it. Not because of anyone else’s opinion or evaluation of it but because other stuff I’ve read lately has touched on some of the themes suggested by Orwell’s totalitarian vision.
I found it to be an enjoyable but unsettling read not because of it’s bleak dystopian outlook but because of the horrific images conjured during Winston Smith’s incarceration. Orwell’s narrative brought images of Nazi concentration camps and their emaciated victims into stark life and I imagine that is something that may well have been on Orwell’s mind as he wrote. I could also sympathise all to readily with Winston Smith’s view regarding rats – they scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, especially after a cousin persuaded me to read James Herbert’s Lair when taking a train to London at age 13!!
Nineteen Eighty-Four’s theme of censorship and the rewriting of the past to suit the political ambitions and ideals of the present was also very striking. I found that the endless conspiracy theorist revision of events such as 9/11 and the quote-mining of creationists when attacking evolution kept springing to mind. Particularly when reading the way that O’Brien had an answer ready with which to refute each of Winston Smith’s statements. I guess they all ready Nineteen Eighty-Four long before I did! 😉
FYI one of the books that got me thinking about reading Nineteen Eighty-Four was The Traveller by the mysterious John Twelve Hawks (read a little more about him on Wikipedia). This is the first of a series of novels set in a dystopian modern society where technology (the Vast Machine) monitors and controls everyone. Its a fast-paced escapist thriller and as such is a bit far-fetched in places but I still found it a good read. Though it was the novella How We Live Now which was included at the end of my paperback edition of The Traveller that really caught my attention. I’ll perhaps post some of my thoughts on it later.