One of my best friends (and most trusted book recommenders) suggested I pick this one up nearly a year ago. And I did. Incidentally, my copy was actually published in 1984, and is currently falling to pieces on my book shelf. With uni work out of the way, I finally got around to reading it. And it is one hell of a book.
I’ve read Orwell before: Animal Farm to be exact. Though I could clearly see how ingenious Orwell had been with symbolism, and it did leave shivers running down my spine- I can’t say I exactly enjoyed it. In fact, at the time of reading it I kind of hated it. I don’t particularly like reading books about animals on farms- even if it is more political than Charlotte’s Web. 1984 is a whole other kettle of fish: not many books make me yell at the characters as I’m reading.
The plot is, yes, brilliant. It works in the same kind of way that Golding’s Lord of the Flies does: it exposes humans for what they are. And what really caught my attention about this book was the characters.
Winston is a character I felt deeply sorry for, from beginning to end. Julia…I wasn’t amazingly keen on Julia. I couldn’t quite pin-point why. Perhaps because on some level, she wasn’t looking to rebel on a larger scale. Child characters in the book, though not prominent, were some of the ones I found the most terrifying. Parson’s children (Parson’s is one of Winston’s colleagues in the Ministry) were terrifying little shits. They were the kinds of children that I like the least. A world where children spy through key holes to turn their own parents in is even scarier than a world where proper coffee and chocolate isn’t even readily available (which, in Oceania – the book’s setting- it isn’t). It didn’t help that a children’s nursery rhyme, and flashbacks to Winston’s younger years were interspersed throughout.
I felt like Winston should have been suspicious of O’Brien from the start. I just did. My instinctive mistrust and dislike of some people stretches to book characters. It would have been too simple for O’Brien to be on Winston’s side. In fact, I think that part of Winston’s gullible, slightly naïve nature was what made him someone to feel sorry for. The beauty he sees in the paperweight, that child-like fascination, was endearing and also upsetting later on. I would be interested to hear what anyone who has read 1984 thinks about O’Brien being suspicious down in the comments. Also, did anyone feel that the book was a critique of those who don’t rise up and attempt to change things, though they have the power? As well as indicating what can happen to those who do attempt to rebel? The proles frustrated me, but I didn’t feel that I was invited to critique them as openly as other characters, perhaps as the proles live in an almost separate world within Big Brother’s society.
The most terrifying scenes in the book: let’s talk Room 101. The room that contains your worst fear. Which, for Winston, is rats. And it is the threat of rats eating him alive that finally tips him in to doing what he has held onto throughout his torture: he betrays Julia, telling O’Brien to release the rats on her. The scenes in this room were chilling. When O’Brien places Winston in front of the mirror, emancipated from starvation and beatings, and rips out one of his teeth- it made me cringe. These smaller scenes indicate a kind of cold-bloodedness that is incredibly scary.
The final chapters. I felt as though, from a craft point of view, the book couldn’t have reasonably ended any other way. It was more effective that simply killing Winston off, to instead leave us with a walking, talking, but emotionally dead character. A character who no longer has freedom of thought. I also hated the ending. I hated it for the characters, because they deserved more. In a strange way, death would arguably have been a better end for Winston and Julia.
All in all, this is a brilliant book. I was glued to it for a week alongside revision. If you want to read one of the original dystopian novels, then get your hands on 1984.