1984, by George Orwell cover image

1984, by George Orwell
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: NAL
Published: 1949
Review Posted: 4/8/2002
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

1984, by George Orwell

Book Review by Paul Kane

Have you read this book?

'The most powerful and terrifying novel I have read in years.' Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Undoubtedly for many of you this book will bring back bad memories. Of dreary English lessons, of reading out loud in front of the class and not understanding a word of what you're saying. But I urge you to put all of that to one side for a minute and give this fantastically absorbing and uncannily prophetic novel another go.

'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.' Thus begins a nightmare trip through a strange and troubled future Britain - now named 'Airstrip 1', a part of the huge international state known as Oceania which is perpetually at war with either Eastasia (China and the countries south of it, Japan's islands and a large part of Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet) or Eurasia (the northern part of the European and Asiatic land-mass, from Portugal to the Bering Strait). Winston Smith is our guide, a worker in the Ministry of Truth, where the past is constantly being rewritten, novels are produced by machines and songs are composed on devices called versificators. He is a pawn of The Party, whose figurehead is the omnipresent Big Brother and three contradictory slogans are: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

His actions are monitored twenty-four hours a day for signs of disloyalty or emotion, by telescreens with cameras inside and merciless spies (including children and friends brainwashed by the party's doctrines). Love has been abolished, along with free thought, and sex is indulged in only to produce more hard-working citizens to serve the cause. Oceania is populated by these virtual human drones, doing the party's bidding, and also by the 'proles' who can't muster the motivation to revolt ('Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.'). Having said that, you can hardly blame them: any hint of opposition is swiftly, and savagely, dealt with. The strong arm of the party, the so-called Thought Police, come for dissidents during the night, always during the night, taking them away to become 'unpeople'. If they're lucky. If not, they might find themselves in Room 101, facing their deepest, darkest fears.

So imagine Winston's surprise when a fellow worker, a young woman called Julia, risks all by passing him a note one day declaring that she loves him. The pair embark on an illicit affair, meeting in secret (or so they believe), eager to discuss how they can overthrow Big Brother. Winston has a feeling that O'Brien, a member of the inner party, may in fact be involved with the Brotherhood against BB. But is O'Brien to be trusted, or will he turn them both in to be reconditioned?

A world-famous satire on totalitarianism and a critique of both the left and right, George Orwell's relentlessly depressing and yet awe-inspiring piece has certainly earned its place in the history books after fifty years in print. An inspiration for such films as Brazil and Judge Dredd (which was a comic book first -- ed.), as well as TV programmes like 'The Prisoner', 'Blake's 7', 'Babylon 5' and... the list goes on.

But what of the novel itself, and how has it stood up to the test of time? Remarkably well, as a matter of fact. Orwell's warnings about a country manipulated by an insane minority who want power for power's sake are just as relevant today as they ever were (especially in the light of Blair's New Labour nanny state and the European Union). You only have to look up the next time you're in town to realise that BB is watching you through CC TV cameras, as well as monitoring you on the Internet. All right, so these measures are an excellent means by which to combat crime both in the real world and in cyberspace, but it just goes to prove how accurate the author's predictions have turned out to be. And how careful we must be not to let such technology fall into the wrong hands.

In addition, I was quite surprised by how horrific the book was, not just in terms of a sense of helpless inevitability that permeates the entire story, but also in its graphic descriptions.

But not even this can compare with the poignancy of Winston's childhood remembrances, which outline the squalid conditions he was brought up in (obviously inspired by Orwell's own time living in poverty), his mother and baby sister's sudden disappearance and his entrance into a Reclamation Camp.

The year - and even the century - may have come and gone, but 1984 is about so much more than just a date. It's about who we are, who we might be and who we definitely should not be. For my money there's never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with this eternally significant masterwork, comrade.

Read more of Paul's reviews at Terror Tales Online, The Online Home of the Horror Small Press or visit his web site, Shadow Writer.
1984, by George Orwell on Amazon

1984, by George Orwell on Amazon

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Comments on 1984, by George Orwell
Posted by Brad on 2/26/2012
He didn't write the book for it to be liked, he wrote it as a warning
Posted by sara on 1/29/2012
i have to say it was quite possibly the best book i have ever read. regardless of the fact that the ending is bitter and leaves u feeling hopeless. the best thing about it,in my opinion, is that the main character is not a perfect hero. he changes through out the novel and transforms, and even though you hate him at times, u still feel sorry for him. also, i have to say, the picture that Orwell draws of the oceanic government is very accurate in some countries. i recommend it to anyone who doesn't get bored easily n is even slightly interested in politics or philosophy. I hope u enjoy it as much as i did.
Posted by Trap Wolf on 2/9/2010
I see people are having a hard time understanding this book. Well it's not the most easy read; it is very difficult because of the time it was written in and the large amount of language and dictionary abuse it uses. I've even skipped just to get to the parts I understand. But I have to say I didn't like it all that much. It was sad of Winston's fate at the end when it was all over.
Posted by big mike on 1/6/2010
I rather enjoyed the book. The first half was a little boring but after the meeting with Julia, i couldn't make myself put it down. It is an amazing book and i would recommend it to any high school-er or college student. If you never got past the first half i greatly encourage you to try again
Posted by alli on 12/8/2009
this book is ridiculously complicated and a waste of brain usage at school!!!
Posted by Sanket on 7/12/2009
This book is my first from Dystopian literature, and a truly exhilarating experience! Though I felt the book dragged a bit too long, but short spurts of energetic views involving the description of totalitarian era, has been a treat to have! I would say a must read for a moderately patient reader!
Posted by ben on 12/5/2008
i hated this book
Posted by john on 12/5/2008
not very good
Posted by LJ on 10/10/2007
One more thing. I don't recommend this book to anyone not in high school. It's really sexual, violent, and sent me to bed looking for rats! The book itself is very powerful and can relate to one's life in many ways. However, the age limit is for young adults. Oh! One more thing, sorry for 'lenghty'. It should be 'lengthy'.
Posted by LJ on 10/10/2007
I'm not sure how to describe it. I mean, it was a good book written with an idea about the future[[which never happened]]. But Orwell wrote the novel too lengthy, describing trivial things in copious amounts of pages. I enjoyed the book, although I wish it would've been less sexual and violent, and a little shorter and more to the point rather than lenghty and waste of pages. But then again, it's the author's way of writing. I wish people would read it more carefully and see that it is a wonderful story, just a long one.
Posted by MLK on 12/11/2006
This book was truly frightening. It's especially disturbing when you think about how much of this book has actually come true.
Posted by Appo on 12/10/2006
I didn't like it.
Posted by Dave on 3/22/2006
I remember reading 1984 in high school. Onef those books thar helped set in motion my thus far life long relationship with speculative fiction.
Posted by Kinney on 11/15/2004
This is a terriffyingy brilliant parody of totalitarianism!! a must read
Posted by Daniel on 4/8/2002
Great review! 1984 is one of the most frightening and powerful novels I've ever read. It is still VERY relevant and I wish more people would give this one a look.