I have briefly stopped reading crime novels or 18th century history books to re-read this for my book club. The bleak start had me worried that I would not be able to finish reading it but I was soon drawn in again by this amazing novel.
My partner decided to choose it after watching the final episode of Simon Schama’s History of Britain TV series where he drew interesting parallels between the lives of Churchill and Orwell. Reading this book makes you aware of how amazingly talented Orwell was, considering he wrote this in 1948, it reflects his ability to write in a revolutionary style.
The story predicts a dystopian future. The English Socialist state (Ingsoc) Oceania (the Western Hemisphere), is represented as a terrifying totalitarian state giving a sense of doom from the outset of the novel. The leader Big Brother is a representation of Stalin who rules through a cult of personality and where individual thought is a crime. Orwell predicts that the world will be divided into opposing power blocks and Oceania is alternatively at war with opposing power blocks such as Eurasia and Eastasia. Despite supposedly being socialist, society is divided into the Inner and Outer Party and the downtrodden Proles. The language of the state is doublespeak, for example, the Ministry of Truth where Winston Smith works deals with propaganda and lies and the slogan of Oceania is ‘WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH’. The book shows the struggle of the ordinary man Winston against the totalitarian state. Through the simple act of keeping a diary or having a sexual relationship, Winston is indulging in subversive acts.
Orwell created terms that are now widely used like the thought police, big brother and sexcrime (by the Eurythmics anyway). The only part of the book that failed to capture me were passages where Winston reads Goldstein’s (Trotsky) book of the Brotherhood book boring, as I found them overlong.
This is a really fantastic interesting read, and I am sure it will generate lots of discussion at the book club. I am now off to re-read Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia.