Nineteen Eighty-Four

by George Orwell

This is not an enjoyable book to read in the least. SPOILER ALERT. The first 100 pages paint a world I would call postapocalyptic (but which Erich Fromm points out in the book's afterword is actually—simply—a 'negative utopia'). So starting out you'll be demoralized and feel filthy, infested, bug bitten, grimy, ill, oily, & smelly. If you're still reading, pages 100 to 200, roughly, are a love story. This is the only part of Nineteen Eighty-Four I could really abide. It's pretty perfect & would even make a nice stand-alone short story. And then after that, the rest of the book is, frankly, torture porn.

So THAT's why we never read it as ninth graders in 1984! It's horrific, disturbing to read, not especially well written, and doesn't satisfy with its bleakest of bleak endings. This is a huge downer book; its only inkling of redemption being what was pointed out to me in Thomas Pynchon's foreword: Nineteen Eighty-Four, and its appendix about the principles of Newspeak, are written in PAST TENSE. So if the year 1984 was/is/will be that bad, something must happen beyond that time period that enables us to look back on it with some perspective. Good thing.

As a side note, I love the character of Julia; she is fully realized. She is as bored by—and falls asleep to—Winston's reading aloud (and Orwell's risky verbatim 'reprinting') of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism as I would (be)! Folks, this runs for SCORES of pages within Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Book of the Month Club wanted to excise this entire portion—and more—and I daresay I agree with them.

I loved Animal Farm & got a lot out of it, but I'm not a fan of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Sure, not every book needs to portray skipping through fields of daisies & have a feel-good ending, but neither does one accomplish much that makes you have to avert your gaze from the page at its repeated plainspoken descriptions of sadism & agony. The reason this was not assigned reading to my freshman English class is that the last quarter of the book is largely comprised of unflinching depictions of hardcore physical, mental, & psychological torture: make no mistake, would-be readers. As to its 'predictions,' the closest thing I've witnessed in the modern era would probably be...having just watched Going Clear last night...Scientology.