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One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century,
This review is from: 1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Paperback)I first read this book in 1984 during my fourth year at Clydebank High School. I was apprehensive about reading it; an older cousin had struggled with it, when he was doing his Higher English and it gave the impression from the cover that it would be dull and very earnest. However, from its striking opening sentence "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" it ensnared me in a way that very few books have done since. There are few books which have made such an impact upon the common culture of Britain and the wider world. Phrases such as Big Brother, Room 101 (the worst place in the world) and the Thought Police have entered into the collective consciousness of the nation. As the amount of surveillance by the state continues to grow we mutter that we are moving to a `Big Brother Society', and we fear that our privacy and freedoms are being steadily eroded.
For those who haven't read it Nineteen Eighty-Four is an allegorical political novel. The story takes place in a nightmarish dystopia where the omnipresent State enforces perfect conformity among members of a totalitarian Party through indoctrination, propaganda, fear, and ruthless punishment. Winston works for The Ministry of Truth which "concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts." He helps to write news articles which manipulate and distort the truth and he is complicit in the production of government propaganda. Winston despises his society and believes that values such as objective truth, love, decency and loyalty, which were once commonplace, can be resurrected, and he decides to rebel against The Party.
There is a common misconception that in Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell was indulging in prophecy and was describing how the future would be. What he was actually doing was extrapolating from existing tendencies in the world of the late forties and projecting them into the year 1984. The grubby, seedy atmosphere of the book is taken from the living conditions of post-war Britain, and this helps to give the book much of its authenticity. He got the title for the book by simply swapping around '48 for '84. Orwell was a man of the Left, but he despised the Soviet Union and he saw the behaviour of Stalin and his ilk as both a threat to Britain, and as a dangerously totalitarian example which some in the Left wished to ape. Nineteen Eight-Four is a vision of what it would be like to live in a society in which individuals are not valued, in which permanent war is waged in the name of peace, in which every aspect of an individual's life comes under the scrutiny of the state and in which government is not conducted in the name of the collective good, but instead is just about the naked perpetuation of brutal political power. As O'Brien says to Winston, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- for ever." This novel's relevance has not dated; the issues that it addresses are still with us, and it reminds us that we must always be vigilant in protecting our freedoms. In the age of political spin it is good to be reminded, as this book does, that the manipulation of language is extremely dangerous, and has to be challenged. Nowadays there is a proliferation of euphemisms for what are really rather unpleasant things, for example: 'friendly fire', 'collateral damage' and 'pacification'. Orwell detected this tendency in his own time and it continues to flourish.
Nineteen Eighty-Four made a huge impact upon me. I devoured all of Orwell's other work and I found that I especially loved his essays. Nineteen Eight-Four opened up an entire world of serious literature for me and it began my political education. I envy anyone who has not read it and my love for it is so great that I went on a pilgrimage to Barnhill on Jura (possibly one of the most inaccessible places in the British Isles), to see where Orwell wrote it. It is quite simply, one of the most important books that has ever been written.