This novel had me at the first Heathers reference. Some of the interpersonal interactions feel very surface-level emotionally, but I'm willing to forg...moreThis novel had me at the first Heathers reference. Some of the interpersonal interactions feel very surface-level emotionally, but I'm willing to forgive it for that, since it's mainly intended to be a geeky adventure novel. I'm a sucker for it's constant 80s pop-culture references, some of which introduced me to things I'd missed (How did I never see WarGames? So awful/great). Fun.(less)
**spoiler alert** I feel ambivalent about this novel right now. That may change as it sinks in. As political thought, it's quite powerful, and it expl...more**spoiler alert** I feel ambivalent about this novel right now. That may change as it sinks in. As political thought, it's quite powerful, and it explores the motivations of government, organizations of all stripes and of individuals-both as members of nations and socioeconomic class and as individuals unto themselves. Orwell has an often elegant way of describing the interactions between elements of society, and between societies at large that gives them the feeling of a sort of social ecosystem, complete with a fairly insightful assessment of how balance is achieved or is lost in favor of one group or another. It's not the most complex assessment ever written, but it's more nuanced in some cases than it looks on the surface.
But where it's quite sharp on these point, it sometimes gives up a lot of ground as a novel. The characters sometimes feel a little too much like the metaphors and allegories they are, rather than like actual humans who have multiple motivations and ideas and emotional states pulling at them. They often come across as flat, too simple, and not always believable. The love between the protagonist, Winston and his love interest, Julia does not come across well. She confesses it to him suddenly in a note she crams into his palm, even thought they've had no contact to speak of, and he seems to go spontaneously from loathing her to sharing her love. Their interactions feel fueled by lust, curiosity and the pleasure they derive from the danger involved. There isn't much to suggest actual affection or devotion. It's a totally unromantic love. Love without much in the way of sentiment.
And it's a love that reflects a troubling pattern in the way Orwell portrays women throughout the novel. Julia belongs to an "anti-sex" league, and before she suddenly confesses her love for him, Winston's primary desire towards her is, he states, to rape her and slit her throat as a reaction to her perceived purity and resistance to sensuality. That's pretty troubling, and Orwell never offers criticism of that through any of the characters. When Winston confesses these previous thoughts to her during an encounter, she seems...amused. Julia turns out not to be resistant at all, and confesses gleefully to having been rather promiscuous, at which point Winston becomes totally charmed by her. So what's the message there? Women who don't appear to want sex provoke the desire to force them, and shouldn't feel troubled that someone might have that impulse toward them? Victim blaming anyone? And why was it necessary for her to have been completely indiscreet and promiscuous? There's a lot of space between frigidity and rampant promiscuity, but it seems like Orwell couldn't conceive of a woman who might enjoy sex like any normal woman without that meaning that she would sleep with any available man. The other women who appear in the novel don't do much to ease the reader's feelings about Orwell's attitude. There are: - Two very weak mothers (one of them Winston's own) whose children terrorize them - Winston's little sister (an infant whose starvation he perpetuated by stealing food) - An old prostitute whose already decrepit appearance is made worse by a thick layer of makeup. Winston brags in his diary about how he slept with her anyway as some sort of defiance against the system. - A member of the lower "prole" class, a ruddy overweight woman who is constantly engaged in the task of laundering clothes and singing under Winston's window. Winston proudly announces that he finds her beautiful, because he imagines that she is so overweight because she was once briefly attractive and as a result had a great many children (he guesses as many as 15), to whom she is now entirely obligated as a laundress. He seems to be extremely proud of himself for finding her beautiful when others might not, as if he finds himself pleasantly progressive on the subject of female beauty. That might be true if it wasn't so self-conscious and self-congratulatory, or if he actually found this woman beautiful in and of herself, but of course its clear that its really her perceived fertility and total submersion in familial obligation that he finds appealing.
The take-away: Politically insightful, and worth reading, but lacking as fiction. (less)