It’s been 65 years since George Orwell died, so today we’re going to cover Nineteen Eighty-Four (often written as 1984, but we like to be different) in order to commemorate his legacy. We’ve reviewed Down and Out in Paris and London before on this blog (our favourite of his books), but Nineteen Eighty-Four is the big one. It’s arguably one of the most famous novels in literature – even people who don’t read seem vaguely aware of its presence, such is its influence.
It’s technically a science-fiction novel, but don’t be deceived. Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) wasn’t a science-fiction writer, he merely had in mind social justice and concerns of an invasion of public privacy. For our review we’re largely going to ignore the “Orwell was so prescient!” stuff and focus on the story, which is at turns amusing, intelligent, but largely flat-out terrifying. It’s a book everyone should read, so here we go. Find out why!
Yeah, it’s a dystopian novel. Kind of like 60% of most of the novels which are released today, typically in the young author genre. “What was that, Professional Moron, a complaint?!” Shut up! Let us continue with this novel synopsis.
Okay, so the novel was published in 1949 and is set in Airstrip One (the UK), a province of Oceania. This one is in a relentless war with a largely unseen enemy, whilst the totalitarian government controls the population through manipulation, brutal violence, and what would nowadays be called illegal CCTV monitoring.
The protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in this world of weirdness yet is troubled by his lack of towing the political line. Terrified he may be discovered and bumped off, he inadvertently connects with the rebellious young woman Julia and the two enter a state defying relationship and plan subversive plots.
Although the novel has its funny moments (such as the hilarious concept of the Two Minutes Hate, where Oceania civilians scream abuse at the supposed “enemy” for 120 seconds), it’s largely just terrifying. The oppressive government, monitoring Smith’s every move, is despicably suppressive and intelligent and it leads the protagonist, and the reader, into a horrifying world of (you guessed it) totalitarianism.
Orwell cannily crafted an incredible book (as with Animal Farm) which supplied a complex concept in an easily accessible style. It is genius and one of the defining books of the 20th century, regardless of whether the political side interests you or not. We thoroughly recommend you get out there, buy it, read it, and scare yourself rigid!
Guess what? A film adaptation was made in 1984. Yes, the 30+ year wait delivered a faithful portrayal of the novel. Starring John Hurt (76 today – happy birthday, Mr. Hurt!), Suzanna Hamilton (best known for Out of Africa), and Rab C. Nesbitt (we kid you not, Scottish comedian Gregor Fisher is in the film), it’s an interesting adaptation which does complement the book to some extent. Give it a whirl, if you want.