Cecily's Reviews > 1984

1984 by George Orwell
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bookshelves: classics, scifi-future-speculative-fict, dystopian, language-related

Revised for 2017, with added "Alternative Facts"


Ten Shades of Grey?

The colour of this book is grey, relentless grey: of skin, sky, food, floor, walls, mind, life itself. Added piquancy comes from general decay, drudgery, exploitation, chronic sickness, and malaise.

There is also sex and (non-sexual) bondage, domination, and torture.

I don’t expect a dystopian book to be happy reading, but this reread was far grimmer than I remembered it, partly because I read it immediately after the lyrical beauty of another dystopia, Fahrenheit 451, reviewed HERE, and partly because I’ve probably watched Terry Gilliam’s magical film, Brazil so many times (though he claimed he had not read the book before making the film).

Nevertheless, more than 50 years after it was written, 1984 is still powerful, important, and relevant - a feat EL James’ “Fifty Shades” books are unlikely to achieve. On the other hand, I gather Fifty Shades lacks page after page of heavy-handed political theory, so on that criterion, it might be ahead of 1984.

If there is hope, it lies in the proles” - they are not any shade of grey.

Have We Reached 1984? (written in 2015)

In some ways, this book is very dated.

• The underlying misogyny is unchallenged (Winston “disliked nearly all women, and especially the young pretty ones… who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party” and he quickly goes from wanting to rape and murder a woman (he even tells her!) to lusting after “her youthful body desperate for him” and feeling “he had a right to” her). On the other hand, Winston is uncritical - enthusiastic even - about her promiscuity.

• Related to that - and to Fahrenheit 451 - Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote in a group discussion: "there's a distinct echo in both books of the Garden of Eden story, with Eve tempting Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And in each case, it's a denial of the dogma that this is the original sin."

• A contemporary writer would probably avoid the lengthy passages of exposition and theory found here (especially ~20 pages of closely typed text from Goldstein’s snappily titled “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism”).

• The post-war Cold War fears are ancient history, and the rise of supposedly Islamic groups like Daesh/ISIS/ISIL pose a different sort of threat.

BUT, where this is still pertinent, it’s not quite in the ways that Orwell might have expected.

• We’re blasé about ubiquitous CCTV cameras, and we voluntarily, enthusiastically, surrender details of our interests, activities, location, and friends via our smartphone apps, and Google (see Vox article about how Google Trends reveals the truths that people don't tell researchers, here).

• We think we’re too smart to fall for lies like those of the Party, but a quick trawl of trending stories on social media demonstrates the untruth of that: people are gullible. The patent nonsense that people believe and share, without ever engaging the weakest of critical faculties is staggering. Most of those are trivial compared with the lies of Big Brother, but they show how easy it is to believe what everyone else believes, regardless of ample evidence to the contrary.

• We may not have Two Minutes’ Hate or Hate Week, but we certainly have hate figures, and again, social media exacerbates the crowd mentality: “The horrible thing… was not that one was obliged to act a part, but… that it was impossible to avoid joining in”. I’ve not read Jon Ronson’s So You've Been Publicly Shamed , but I’m familiar with many of the stories in it (if you’re not, look at the many excellent reviews on GR). Scary stuff.

Update, January 2017, “Alternative Facts”

On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the USA. He campaigned in the style of an autocratic, narcissistic demagogue. He had a long track record of flagrantly denying obvious, provable truths, even on trivial matters. The day after numerous photos and other measures showed unimpressive attendance at his inauguration, rather than blame poor weather or practical and financial difficulties of travel, Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary flat-out denied realistic estimates, refused to take questions, and threatened to crack down on the press. The resulting furore led to Kellyanne Conway, a Trump Strategist, defended him, saying he had merely presented "Alternative Facts".

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command… And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: .....Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened – that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.

UnTruth and UnReality - Three Types

• “The mutability of the past” means history is forever being rewritten corrected for slips, errors, misprints and misquotes, making truth unknowable (Winston is not even sure of his age or year of birth).

• The doublethink slogans of the Party are another deliberate type of unreality.

• The third confusion of reality is subtler, in stark contrast to the gritty realism of the rest of the book, and not one I’d really considered on previous readings. It relates to dreams, premonitions, hallucinations, and (in)sanity. Confusion from deprivation and torture is one thing, but there are possible magical-realist aspects. Early on, Winston dreams of meeting O’Brien “in the place where there is no darkness”; later mentions are ambiguous as to whether this is coincidence or something else. A country landscape is also familiar from a dream, and he has a muddled dream about the coral paperweight, his mother and a Jewish woman. Furthermore, there are times in prison when the interrogator’s knowledge seems too precise and secret to be inferred from spies, screens or microphones: can he read Winston’s mind?!

Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else.

“If there is hope, it lies in the proles”

The proles were not loyal to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another… The proles had stayed human. ” As unimportant drones, they have freedom denied to Party members and “were beneath suspicion”.

Conditions in Airstrip One are dire, with food and basic services in very limited supply, but sanity is scarcest of all. “Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.

For some, “By lack of understanding they remained sane”.

Three Parts

• The first part sets the scene of Winston’s Smith’s predictable life as an unimportant Party member in Big Brother’s terrifying regime in Airstrip One, ever at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia.

• The second part concerns actions: freedom, courage, love/lust, betrayal.

• The final part is about the consequences of those actions.

Again and again, brief, apparently trivial things turn out to be significant.

Newspeak

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year”, with the aim of making “thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it”.

This is really an extreme form of linguistic determinism (aka Sapir-Whorf hypothesis): the idea that the structure of a language can affect the cognition of those who use it. A very different extrapolation of that is in Ted Chiang's The Story of Your Life (filmed for 2016 as Arrival), reviewed HERE.

I thought the linguistic aspect would be something I’d especially enjoy this time, but the key features are familiar and it’s explained in an appendix (which is where most of the lengthy extracts of Goldstein’s book should have gone, imo.) However, it's worth noting that the appendix, written after the main story, is in conventional English. Newspeak is/was no more.

Feelings – and Troublesome Questions

This is a grey, cold book. Even the lust and passion it contains is chilling. But it asks timeless and difficult questions about love and loyalty:

• Would you risk everything - absolutely everything - for a few passionate meetings with someone you may not even love?

• To serve your ideology, would you lie, murder, steal… throw acid in a child’s face?

• If you could save your partner by doubling your own pain, would you? Would you really?

• Is failure of love the only betrayal that counts? (If you tell all, but secretly love, are you loyal?)

Quotes

Some are so well-known, it might seem superfluous to type them here, but that’s exactly why I’ve included them.

• “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
• “Although the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere.”
• “An active man of almost paralysing stupidity.”
• “All history was a palimpsest.”
• “It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.”
• “The old man’s memory was nothing but a rubbish-heap of details.”
• “A hanging oil lamp which gave off an unclean but friendly smell.”
• “He would buy further scraps of beautiful rubbish.” (In addition to coral in glass.)
• “It was camouflage. If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones.”
• A dash of lipstick and “she had become not only much prettier, but… far more feminine.”
• Charrington, the junk shop owner had “vaguely the air of being a collector rather than a tradesman”.
• “The end was contained in the beginning.”
• “Our only true life was in the future.”
• “Winston was gelatinous with fatigue… His body seemed to have not only the weakness of a jelly, but its transparency.”
• “The best books, he [Winston] perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.” No, no, no!
• “The blade would bite into him with a sort of burning coldness.”
• “Never, for any reason on earth, could you wish for an increase in pain… Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain.” Hmm. What about emotional pain?
• “If you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.”
• “The confession was a formality. The torture was real.”
• “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
• “In the old days the heretic walked to the stake still a heretic… But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.” Shades of Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, reviewed HERE.

Slogans

• “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
• “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
• “2 + 2 = 5” “Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once.”
• “It is not enough to obey him: you must love him.”
• “We are interested solely in power… Power is not a means, it is an end.”
• “Outside man there is nothing… The earth is the centre of the universe.”
• “Big Brother is watching.”

Image source: http://www.artsparx.com/images/bl_val...

OLD Review from 2008
The year 1984 may be long passed, but this book is more pertinent than ever: big brother is watching us, history is rewritten (though that has always been true) and free speech is constrained (albeit often under the misused guise of political correctness).

It's a shame that the humorous TV programme "Room 101" and reality TV franchise "Big Brother" have distracted people from the seriousness of Orwell's message.
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Quotes Cecily Liked

George Orwell
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell
“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell
“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell
“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”
George Orwell, 1984


Reading Progress

May 30, 2008 – Shelved
June 9, 2008 – Shelved as: classics
June 9, 2008 – Shelved as: scifi-future-speculative-fict
July 25, 2009 – Shelved as: dystopian
May 7, 2014 – Shelved as: language-related
December 15, 2015 – Started Reading
December 15, 2015 –
page 1
0.3% "From rereading Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to rereading another classic set in a totalitarian regime, bent on controlling information."
December 21, 2015 –
page 37
11.28% "From the poetic prose of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to the dense philosophy of Orwell's 1984. These two are less similar than I recalled."
December 22, 2015 –
page 87
26.52% "Whose bright idea was it to reread this relentlessly grim story over Christmas? Was it to counteract the likely overload of sweetness, or was it a Scrooge-like gesture?\n I like books with a good dose of darkness, but there's no light or beauty, and precious little hope. I'm yearning for Gilliam's Brazil..."
December 23, 2015 –
page 180
54.88% "Twenty three pages of tiny type: extracts from Goldstein's book of socio-political-economic theory. Hard going. Thank goodness no one is going to test me on this!"
December 28, 2015 –
page 267
81.4% "Very unsure how I'll update and rewrite my review. I can't say I enjoyed it this time, but I do want to acknowledge its continued power, importance, and relevance. Grim, though. Very grim."
December 30, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 106 (106 new)


message 1: by Doug H (last edited Dec 17, 2015 02:22PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doug H I realize I'm an odd duck, but I enjoyed the humorous aspects of the awful office life described in the initial stages of the book MUCH more than the later heavy hits of torture and torturously serious political message.


Cecily I like odd ducks - and odd people!

If you like the humour, have you seen Terry Gilliam's Brazil? If not, you should:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/?...
It's not an adaptation of 1984, but it's heavily inspired by aspects of it.


Doug H Loved it. It seemed so hilariously over-the-top when it premiered. Now we've become almost immune to those daily scenes. Katherine Helmond's face too!


Cecily Sabah, thanks - especially given how much you love this book ("near perfect"!). Although I didn't enjoy it as much as I remembered, I was pleased to find new aspects to it this time. Your own review is more detailed and passionate than mine.


Matt Great review!
I think you should also read We while 1984 is still present in your head. I found quite a few similarities between the two. We has some more colors thought, not only grey.


Erika Great review! I especially liked how you overlay Orwell's "predictions" against how our world actually is today. The novel is nearly 60 years old, which is amazing because while parts of it are dated, much of it still feels fresh and new to me.
I reread 1984 a couple of years ago, and suspect I had a more positive reaction to it than you. I loved the eradication of truth (it reminded me of our media) and the scene where people are suddenly told that they are no longer at war with Eurasia, but instead with Eastasia (or maybe it was the other way around).
As always, your insights and style are one of the reasons GR is a good place!


Jessica Fantastic review. I particularly like your close reading on the different aspects of untruth and unreality. I had never considered the possible magical realism moments, but now I feel I should reread to think about it further. And I too am a huge fan of the movie Brazil!


message 8: by Seemita (new)

Seemita Fantastic review, Cecily! Like always, you got to the core of this important book and handed me a heady induction into what seems a gloomy read. I am sort of embarrassed to admit I am yet to read this one. But I should pin my hopes for next year.


Cecily Matt wrote: "Great review!
I think you should also read We while 1984 is still present in your head. I found quite a few similarities between the two. We has some more colors thought, not only grey."


Thanks, Matt. I shelved that as "Want to read" a while ago, but am no nearer to actually reading it yet. Also, I need a significant break from dystopias! DH Lawrence is perfect.


Cecily Erika wrote: "Great review! I especially liked how you overlay Orwell's "predictions" against how our world actually is today..."

Thank you, Erika. I wanted to shine a modern light on it to emphasise its continuing relevance - and to compensate myself for the greyness of the reading experience.


Cecily Jessica wrote: "Fantastic review... I had never considered the possible magical realism moments, but now I feel I should reread to think about it further. And I too am a huge fan of the movie Brazil! "

Jessica, thank you. I'd never consciously noticed a potentially magical realist angle before either!

I love Brazil, but read that Gilliam claimed not to have read 1984 when he wrote it. It's clearly not an adaptation, but there are so many similarities and satires, he's either lying rewriting history, or had some colleagues who had.


Cecily Seemita wrote: "Fantastic review, Cecily! Like always, you got to the core of this important book and handed me a heady induction into what seems a gloomy read. I am sort of embarrassed to admit I am yet to read this one..."

Thanks, Seemita. I hope I've whetted your appetite without spoiling it in terms of plot or gloom.


Petergiaquinta • A contemporary writer would probably avoid the lengthy passages of exposition and theory found here (especially ~20 pages of closely typed text from Goldstein’s snappily titled “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism”).

Yes...or is there something else at work here, something that could be considered under a different lens as almost either early meta- or post-modern on the part of Orwell?

And I understand exactly what you're saying about how gray and gloomy this book is in comparison to so many other (especially contemporary) dystopian works. Bradbury gives us hope at the end. Spunky Katniss with her bow and arrow defeats the Capital. (Yeah, I know, that was wrong of me to stick her in here, but she's emblematic of the current trend in crappy dystopian novels to show how with a little grit and a few wise cracks authoritarian regimes can easily come tumbling down.)

Over the last 30+ years since I first read the book, I'd been troubled by how little hope Orwell leaves for mankind by the end of 1984. And then in the last couple of years, and thanks to Margaret Atwood, I took a closer look at that appendix, something I'd always dismissed as an annoyance or a curiosity, but not part of the novel itself. And, thanks to Atwood, the purpose of the appendix became clearer. It's not just a primer on Newspeak provided as an after thought by Orwell for curious readers. It's a subtle, clever look at a future society free of Ingsoc and the Party looking back in time at the abuses of an earlier age. Look at the tenses being used in the appendix--it was a shock to me after repeated readings of the book!

I no longer look at 1984 in the same way. It's about as dark as these books get, but I think Orwell holds out the possibility for some light in all the grim grayness of the novel.


Cecily Petergiaquinta wrote: "Yes...or is there something else at work here, something that could be considered under a different lens as almost either early meta- or post-modern on the part of Orwell?"

Aha, po-mo is an intriguing angle. I like it from a lit crit perspective, but I still can't say I enjoyed the extent of it as a reader.

I think you're right to mention The Hunger Games: modern writers probably have half an eye (at least) on a possible screen adaptation, and that may lighten them up in tone and preachiness. Conversely, I doubt 1984 would be published as a new book in 2015 in its current form.


Petergiaquinta Cecily wrote: " Conversely, I doubt 1984 would be published as a new book in 2015 in its current form. "

Not unless plucky l'il Julia breaks Winston out of Room 101 and then the two of them go take down Big Bro himself backed by a stirring soundtrack by Fall Out Boy! (or Imagine Dragons?)


message 16: by Cecily (last edited Dec 30, 2015 02:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Well, that wouldn't be "in its current form".
;)

But yes, a Girl Power breakout would tick some zeitgiesty boxes, though surely Julia could do better than Winston?


message 17: by Traveller (last edited Dec 31, 2015 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Love the review and the points you bring up; as you know, I, unlike you, like political novels, but even I found "The Book" too much of an infodump. :P

Just a note: as always one should be careful of conflating the author of a book with any of his characters. Just as Nabokov is not Humbert, and Faulkner is not Bertie, so is Orwell not Winston, of course. (Not saying you said so, but in other discussions it felt like you were referring to "Orwell's misogyny" where "Winston's misogyny" is relevant. ..but I apologize, I looked again, and it just seemed that way to me, you hadn't actually said so. :) )

As for Winston's misogyny being "unchallenged", I think you might find this point of view interesting:
https://slutocracy.wordpress.com/2013...
- I had pretty similar thoughts about the love-interest in We, although to me the female character in We does come across as a lot stronger - once again that might depend on POV.


Cecily Hi, Trav. I agree there's an important distinction between Orwell's and Winston's beliefs (though I don't know enough about Orwell to know how they might differ). I went to the group discussions, and couldn't see where I'd referred to "Orwell's misogyny" though, so if you want to PM me, I'll correct it.

Thanks for the link. Plenty of food for thought there. Regarding the specific lack of slut shaming, Winston actually goes further than the post suggests: not only does he not think Julia slutty for her clothes and eagerness for sex, but he positively LIKES the fact she's been promiscuous (I need a less pejorative word).

I keep meaning to read We, but I've read too many dystopias lately, not all of them enjoyable, plus I want to read China Mieville's short story collection reasonably soon...


Traveller Cecily wrote: "Hi, Trav. I agree there's an important distinction between Orwell's and Winston's beliefs (though I don't know enough about Orwell to know how they might differ). I went to the group discussions, a..."

I apologize - you might have seen when you posted now, that I had already edited my comment a while ago - I was replying to your post and realized that you had not said so after all.

Regarding We, we (ha ha) can always revive the We discussion on Mievillians that we had about 2 years ago. I love that book.


Cecily Traveller wrote: "you might have seen when you posted now, that I had already edited my comment"

Rewriting the past is entirely appropriate.
;)


Traveller Cecily wrote: "Traveller wrote: "you might have seen when you posted now, that I had already edited my comment"

Rewriting the past is entirely appropriate.
;)"


LOL, now it sounds as if you had read Shriek: An Afterword recently. :D A lot about the philosophy of history there.


Cecily Um... I'm ashamed to say I haven't. The title didn't even ring a bell, but I minded that less when I checked and found only one of my friends has reviewed it.


Traveller Cecily wrote: "Um... I'm ashamed to say I haven't. The title didn't even ring a bell, but I minded that less when I checked and found only one of my friends has reviewed it."

Ah, it was our latest discussion on "On Paths" and having just read it, I did a double-take at the words "re-writing the past" and wondered if you had not read it; because the protagonist keeps "rewriting" her personal history, and a lot of it has to do with different interpretations of events which made that phrase feel like déjà vu. :)


Derek Traveller wrote: "Regarding We, we (ha ha) can always revive the We discussion on Mievillians that we had about 2 years ago. I love that book. "

But make sure you get the translation Traveller was using, because I had a different one and We just didn't do it for me—and I'm pretty sure the translation was the problem.


Cecily Traveller wrote: " I did a double-take at the words "re-writing the past" and wondered if you had not read it; because the protagonist keeps "rewriting" her personal history"

I suppose it's quite a common phrase - especially in relation to 1984. Also, the rather odd African novel, The Book of Chameleons.


Cecily Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: "But make sure you get the translation Traveller was using, because I had a different one and We just didn't do it for me"

Thanks for the tip, but which are which? (You've marked it as "won't read" and Trav's review is for a "different version" from the one it's linked to!)


message 27: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Cecily wrote: "Thanks for the tip, but which are which? "

That's the OneState vs. United State (and maybe others) issue. In the version I read the state is called "United State", and I didn't find the translation particular good. I'm not entirely sure, but I think that's the one by Gregory Zilboorg, so you might want to check out another one.


message 28: by Cecily (last edited Jan 01, 2016 09:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Thanks, Matt, Derek and Trav: I've made a note of that in my Want to Read "review" of We.


Traveller Regarding WE, I was actually reading 3 or 4 versions by the end of our discussion here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/group..., where we discussed the t/lation issues quite extensively.

The first thread mentions the issue, and doesn't give any spoilers:
https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... , but this particular post compares the style of 3 of the translations : https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

It's from the start of the book, so if you just stay there, that should give you an idea without too many spoilers.


Cecily Thanks, Trav.


message 31: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat For me I'd say that it is the magical realist elements that are the most interesting - thank you for picking a few out, 1984 is a worlf in flux with only a thick scummy surface that suggests solidity. Beneath that the mutability is unending not even stopping at human consciousness.

The comment about this as an Adam and Eve story is interesting too in what it might say about Orwell's view of the Biblical story. Since if Winston Smith is Adam then the world of the party is Eden, Big Brother is God. From that we might feel that O'Brien is more a literary descendant of Doestoevsky's Grand Inquisitor than of any actual political figure?


Cecily Jan-Maat wrote: "the magical realist elements... Beneath that the mutability is unending not even stopping at human consciousness."

Aha, that's a good way to put it.

Jan-Maat wrote: "if Winston Smith is Adam then the world of the party is Eden, Big Brother is God. From that we might feel that O'Brien is more a literary descendant of Doestoevsky's Grand Inquisitor than of any actual political figure?"

Hmm, Airstrip One as Eden... that doesn't feel quite right, even if it's after the Fall, but Big Brother as God, yes, certainly. (I've not read Dostoevsky for years.)


message 33: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 01, 2016 08:51PM) (new)

Cecily, your work product and diligence in reviewing is stunning. I have relived so many books through your eyes. You always help me to see the old books in new ways, and you help me recall long forgotten details. I can't remember how long it has been since I read this book, but I probably once considered it an altar book for reasons I cannot remember. I guess I saw the truth of it--and thought that it was a near-run thing that it seemed society had turned out more like Huxley's Brave New World pleasure-loving-dystopia than Orwell's totalitarian nightmare dystopia. (Of course there is the Dear Leader in North Korea.) Yet, you make Orwell so relevant with your modern examples that I had not considered. Once again, I find myself admiring your ability to deconstruct a book and organize it so logically. My New Year's Resolution is to be a diligent to reviewing the books that I read as you are.


Cecily Steve, ever generous and humble. I have gained far more from your extraordinarily personal, passionate, and insightful reviews - and especially the books I have felt led to read as a result - than you can have gained from mine. And yet I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of your comment. Stay true to your own self, your own style: by connecting and sharing, we have the best of both.


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

You know I never thought of it as pessimistic. Animal farm, yes, but not this one. I kind of instinctively imagine myself as one of those in power each time I read any such book, and so it was good to see that hold over power could be so perfect, I actually wished that Winston should be caught. Animal Farm was a little sad because power changes hands.


message 36: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Excellent review, Cecily. 1984 was the first of Orwell's works that I read (it was on the English syllabus at school, if I remember correctly) and for a long time it was the only one. As a teenager I found it chilling, probably at least in part because 1984 was still some years away. When I re-read it at the beginning of 1984, it was still chilling.

Over the past couple of years I've been steadily working my way through Orwell's writing. I've now read all but one of his novels and I'm about half way through his collected non-fiction. I've yet to re-read 1984 though. I'm leaving it till last, partly to balance out my Orwell reading experience, partly because I suspect I'll be disappointed. These days I think that Orwell was a much better essayist than he was a novelist, even if that opening line of 1984 is hard to beat. However, your review gives me hope that I'll find re-reading it interesting, whether or not it affects me as it did when I first read it all those years ago.


Cecily Sidharth, thank you so much for such refreshingly original insights.

Sidharth wrote: "You know I never thought of it as pessimistic. Animal farm, yes, but not this one."

Maybe you're fonder of animals than I am! ;)
Seriously, though: the grim greyness of everyday life is relentless; how can that not be a little bit pessimistic?

Sidharth wrote: "I kind of instinctively imagine myself as one of those in power each time I read any such book, and so it was good to see that hold over power could be so perfect, I actually wished that Winston should be caught."

I guess you have higher self-esteem than I do, as well. ;)

Sidharth wrote: "Animal Farm was a little sad because power changes hands."

More than once. But if a regime is bad and corrupt, I think of power change as being good - even if it's painful for some.


Cecily Kim wrote: "Excellent review, Cecily...
Over the past couple of years I've been steadily working my way through Orwell's writing...
These days I think that Orwell was a much better essayist than he was a novelist, even if that opening line of 1984 is hard to beat. However, your review gives me hope that I'll find re-reading it interesting, whether or not it affects me as it did when I first read it all those years ago."


Thank you so much for your kind and personal comments, Kim.

I've heard similar about Orwell's essays versus his novels, but novels are my preferred reading material. (The only essay of his I've read is the much misappropriated Politics and the English Language

I certainly remembered this as a more enjoyable read in the past than I found it this time, but as you can see, I found plenty in it that was still pertinent and worthwhile. I hope it lives up to your hopes and expectations when you come back to it.


Petergiaquinta I suppose if you read the novel from the perspective of an Inner Party member, as apparently Siddharth does, then Winston's final tears of joy and the crappy Victory gin he's swilling serve to give the novel a happy ending.

It's just that I don't understand how a reader could do such mental gymnastics reading a book like this!


Derek Cecily wrote: "I've heard similar about Orwell's essays versus his novels, but novels are my preferred reading material. (The only essay of his I've read is the much misappropriated Politics and the English Language"

I had to read a few of his essays in university. That one, "Shooting an Elephant", and ... something else... As someone who had practically never read "essays", I found them wonderful… but I still prefer novels ;-) But based on those, I wouldn't argue with anybody who says he's a better essayist than novelist.


Petergiaquinta "A Hanging" is the other essay students usually encounter in school. They are both great looks at effects of colonialism.


Cecily Petergiaquinta wrote: "I suppose if you read the novel from the perspective of an Inner Party member...
It's just that I don't understand how a reader could do such mental gymnastics reading a book like this!"


Excellent translation, Petergiaquinta!


Cecily Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: "As someone who had practically never read "essays", I found them wonderful…
But based on those, I wouldn't argue with anybody who says he's a better essayist than novelist"


I'll take that as guidance not to rush back to Orwell. There are too many I other things I really KNOW I want to read.


message 44: by Lily (new)

Lily Great review, Cecily! I'm hoping to read it this year (it's a book that I always feel I should've read in high school), and your analysis has made me keen on doing that. Especially enjoyed your discussion of why it's still relevant.


Cecily Thanks, Lily. I hope you find it worthwhile (just don't read it if you're feeling down).


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Cecily said "Seriously, though: the grim greyness of everyday life is relentless; how can that not be a little bit pessimistic?"

Jokes apart, I always thought 1984 was a sort of warning, not a prophecy. All warnings are inherently optimistic, aren't they, in that dark future can still be avoided. Animal farm was a little sad (to me) because society loop back into its old ways after a hard-earned revolution and it seemed to be almost fatal.


message 47: by Derek (last edited Jan 04, 2016 01:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek Sidharth wrote: "All warnings are inherently optimistic, aren't they, in that dark future can still be avoided. Animal farm was a little sad (to me)…"

Yes! That definitely resonates with me. There's no chance of redemption in Animal Farm. I was listening to an interview with Margaret Atwood last week. They were talking about her dystopian visions, and the interviewer foolishly mentioned that 1984 ends with "But it was all right, every­thing was all right, the strug­gle was fin­ished. He had won the vic­tory over him­self. He loved Big Brother." He's very young, but he should still have known you can't go making mistakes like that with Atwood. She pointed out that it actually ends with an Appendix, in which (in perfectly 'standard' English) Newspeak is described as an obvious aberration at some time in the writer's past. So, Orwell wasn't satisfied with implying an optimistic ending, he actually supplied it!


Cecily Sidharth wrote: "I always thought 1984 was a sort of warning, not a prophecy. All warnings are inherently optimistic, aren't they, in that dark future can still be avoided..."

I see what you're getting it, but then again, a warning is a prophesy of what might happen if you don't heed it. That leaves hope, but I don't see it as inherently optimistic. For 1984 specifically, it's not so much the likelihood of Orwell's vision coming true that makes it grim for me, but the relentless way the misery was described.


Cecily Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: "There's no chance of redemption in Animal Farm. I was listening to an interview with Margaret Atwood last week..."

Ha! Good for Atwood!


Derek Being Canadian, I've heard more than my share of Atwood interviews. She really is amazing. I don't think I've heard an interview yet where she didn't cut the interviewer to the quick, at least once, but she always makes it sound like it's just grandmotherly advice, and the interviewer never seems hurt.


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