About the Author:
George Orwell's real name was Eric Arthur Blair and he was born in India in 1903. He went to Eton when his family moved back to England and later served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. Orwell fought for the Republicans against Franco's fascists during the Spanish Civil War and was wounded, never fully recovering. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC. Orwell died in London in 1950.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
5 out of 5
London in the 1980s in a world where nuclear war and revolution in the 1950s changed world society forever; a brutal oppressive regime, led by Big Brother, controls the very soul of humanity and thoughts themselves are the only crime that truly matters. Winston Smith begins a journey into resistance and rebellion against the Party that starts with the forbidden act of writing a diary and continues into falling in love.
I don't think that anyone would argue against the assertion that 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' is one of the most important novels of the 20th Century; both for what it reveals about the times in which it was written but also for the legacies which are still with us today, with many of the ideas it created entering the common vernacular. Since that's not in dispute, I'll address whether or not it's a good book to read and whether or not it still feels truly relevant.
The short answer is yes. In terms of relevance, although Stalinism (the main, but not only, inspiration for the Party) is no longer with us, we do live in a world where right-wing populist leaders have risen to power on a ticket of nationalism and distrust of 'the other'. You know who I'm referring to, but to make the present day parallel even more obvious, there are very clear connections to be made between the Newspeak concepts like doublethink in the book and the phrase 'fake news'. The idea that a figure of authority can claim something and that, in claiming it, they make it more true than measurable recorded facts is something that is still with us seventy years after this book was published. Orwell wrote the book having fought fascists first-hand and seen the rise of Stalinism under the guise of socialism, but for us now it very much still feels familiar in its themes.
Whether it's a good book to read is a little harder to quantify; although the answer is still an unequivocal 'yes'. I was first exposed to this book, as were so many of us, in school as a teenager. Whilst I can see what they were trying to do by teaching it to us then, there is no way most teenagers could ever really get to grips with this book (I like to think I was of above average intelligence and I certainly couldn't). You need some adult context (not to mention dispiriting experience with democracy) to really understand the themes Orwell introduces here. It's also important to remember that this isn't a novel about its plot. There is a plot, of course, but the novel is about ideas. It's a meditation on great questions like 'What is freedom?', 'What is truth?' and 'What right do we have to our own souls, if there is such a thing?'. If you can't stomach the idea of reading long sections addressing those concepts, then you probably won't enjoy this book at all. It's perhaps best to say that this book is dense; both in its prose and in its ideas.
For me, it was absolutely worth forging ahead through the density because you come out the other side having rewired the very way you think about the concepts it tackles; an irony superceded only by the fact that the story may or may not be set in 1984.
5 out of 5