Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

It was quite a year, 1984. It was the year that Frankie said Relax, and for Admiral Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise, the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many, and they went off in search of Spock.

It was the year of Ghostbusters, the Space Shuttle Discovery, Torvill and Dean, and African famine.

Madonna was on the verge of world domination with the release of Like a Virgin, as was Clive Sinclair in his field of expertise with the Spectrum+. Both of these were to have some significance as I plunged irrevocably towards teenagerhood, as was the fact that 1984 was when my family upped and left the home of my childhood for what seemed like a far less desirable place a stones throw from Birmingham.

It’s fair to say I have mixed feelings about that year and its legacy, and maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to read its official biography by George Orwell. And, now that I have, I have mixed feelings about that too.

It was kinda hard to get into at first, took a while before the descriptive/info-dumping phase finished and Winston met his co-protagonist Julia, and their somewhat stop-start illicit affair began in whatever moments they could snatch away from the prying eyes of Big Brother. Then that gets interrupted by a big chunk of the book (The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanual Goldstein), which although supposedly some sort of Bible for the more rebellious drones of the Party, was very dull and much harder to wade through than the actual story.

And in the last part of the book, Julia and Winston are caught, separated, tortured and finally rehabilitated into life under the Party. From a plot perspective, this is where most of the interesting stuff happens, much of it I found reminiscent of scenes from The Prisoner (good 1960s original, not crappy Hollywood remake).

On the subject of plot, it should be noted that not very much actually happens. It’s something of a fall and rise of Winston Smith (or possibly it’s a rise and fall?), precipitated by his befriending Julia. But for all the shortfalls of the plot, there is no denying that the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four speaks loud and clear into the Airstrip One Britain of 2012. We are all too familiar with the concept of Big Brother; Newspeak of a sort is taking ova thx 2 txt msgs; and even perpetual war does not take a massive leap of imagination.

In fact, with the exception of the extreme sexual repression under the Party, much about the world of 1984 is alarmingly plausible from the outset:
The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures... Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speak-write…
And by pen, Winston is not referring to the type of ink-pencil I usually use these days, but one with a proper nib and everything. Very prescient, in the details as in the bigger picture, and for that reason a definite must-read. I would have to say, however, it’s probably not a must-read again.

No comments: