I was unsure whether I wanted to write about Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don’t feel like I’m really “qualified” for it. It’s one of those books that tends to be studied, and I read it… Well, I was going to say “for pleasure”, but really I chose to read it because it is a Modern Classic and I felt it was right. It’s one of those books that has seeped into popular culture, and there are references to it all over the place. I read it because reading it is inherently Educational. Reading is a pleasurable activity, but it’s nice to better oneself at the same time.
I put a copy on my Christmas list a few years ago; the cover is a reference to the Popular Penguins editions and I found it amusing. Pretty neat, yeah?
Nineteen Eighty-Four is utterly, utterly depressing. I suppose it’s classified as a sci-fi dystopia, and I suppose there’s something of the horror genre in dystopias. (Dystopiae?) Art is, of course, dead, and I find something deeply repulsive about a world without any form of art in it. A world without creativity. Creativity makes us human. Along with Winston, the mind rebels: surely this will end somehow, one day. The human spirit is not meant to live in such a world. And, somewhere in the early pages of Part II, there is a faint hope that things might turn around. That the Brotherhood and the proles could Rise Up and Overthrow the Party. Could such a thing happen? I wondered, glancing at the pages yet to be read. Can a rousing action plot formulate itself within the rest of the book?
Not so much, no.
It’s well-written, which is really the most I ask out of a book. It was my “bus read”, so dedicated because it hasn’t a nice enough cover for me to worry about scuffing it up, and it’s light enough to carry with me every day. But I found it oppressive reading, so more often than not I set it aside in favour of music, and it took me forever to actually get through it. Yes, it has its moments of passion and joy, of hope, of excitement, of danger. And it is well-constructed. Throughout even the moments of freedom is the looming oppression of the Party. The sullen, dark dread that this will go on forever, that there is nothing that can end or destroy it, and that no rebellion could ever be possible.
I think there is an inherent difficulty in coming to a book that is very entrenched in popular culture, as this one is. I had a similar feeling with Dracula, but in a different way; one feels as if Dracula could have been quite mysterious once upon a time. Now, of course, it is inherently understood from the get-go that Count Dracula is a vampire, and we lose some of the air of menace and fear. With Nineteen Eighty-Four it’s the setting – Big Brother, War is Peace, newspeak. We know all of this, to a greater or lesser degree, because it’s been filtered through so many other things. As a result the setting comes off as a bit… well, boring. I’m actually not sure how much of this is a result of it having become a trope since the book’s publication and how much of it is actually intended, as a consequence of a world without art and everything else.
So you see why I feel a bit unqualified to comment. I enjoy rereading; often one picks up on things one missed the first time. For me a significant insight into my enjoyment of this book is that I don’t think I will ever go back for a second helping of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It just wasn’t that sort of read.
Having said that, I didn’t dislike it, at all; it was interesting, and near the end it really does get very good.
In the face of pain there are no heroes