I was cleaning out my Evernote at the end of the year, and I stumbled across the article “100 Books Every Man Should Read”. I’d already been putting my 2017 reading goals together, and this fit the bill perfectly.
(Before you ask, yes, I will read all 100 of these books in 2017, and no, those won’t be the only books I read. I’ll probably end up averaging roughly .75 books a day by the end of the year.)
One of the books on the list was 1984 (I picked this copy because I figured if I’m reading 1984 I’d better read Animal Farm again, too).
I just had good timing when it came to choosing which books from AoM’s list I’d read first.
I’d read 1984 in High School, and I remember (vaguely) reading it again when I was in my 20’s, but picking it up this time I was struck both by how little plot I remembered and how much of the world that Orwell built had seeped into the cultural consciousness.
The book is divided into three parts. The first sets the stage of the dystopian nightmare that is Oceania. The second focuses on the main character, Winston Smith, and his personal rebellion against The State. I recalled a lot of the plot in the first two parts, and there was a familiarity with what I was reading.
It was the third part that took me by surprise, and in particular the transition.
(SPOILERS FOR A 70 YEAR OLD BOOK FOLLOW)
The end of the Part 2 swiftly moves into the capture, and eventual torture and re-education of Smith by The State that occurs in Part 3.
The State in 1984 has a primary antagonist named Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the opposition called The Brotherhood. After meeting a member of this underground resistance, Smith receives a copy of Goldstein’s treatise on how The State came to power and why they’ve adopted the methods they have entitled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
It’s just as dry a read as it sounds.
Large passages towards the end of Part 2 are merely reproductions of chapters of Goldstein’s manifesto, and by extension Orwell’s theory of how Totalitarianism, derived from authoritarian political practices, can/will/would have emerged from a total global war (think World War II).
These passages are full of verbose, dry and academic writing that personifies Orwell’s political position in opposition to the tenets of Totalitarianism and Authoritarian regimes, and the ways in which those regimes use language and fear to control their population.
Smith is reading these passages is his lover’s hideaway when all of a sudden all hell breaks loose.
The Though Police was actually keeping tabs on him the whole time, and everyone he met from The Brotherhood was actually a member of the Though Police in disguise, including the guy Smith rented the room from.
The Though Police Thugs bust through the window, start beating the living shit out of Smith and his girlfriend and then take them away to the Ministry of Love, which is where people get tortured and killed.
I’d read this book twice before and this shit took me completely by surprise. I actually said “Oh, fuck,” out loud when I read it.
From a purely mechanical perspective, these long ass (and yeah, sometimes boring) passages lulled me into a sense of boredom and security that Orwell smashed right through, which is diabolical on his part and also extraordinarily clever.
After I finished, I wasn’t so much focused on the parallels between Orwell’s 1984 and today’s 2017, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this, for lack of a better term, twist.
It was masterfully executed.
There are very few authors who can create a tangible sense of environment in their novels, one that they can use to ramp up certain emotions in order to then harness those emotions to further my immersion in the story (namely the pervasive dread I felt at several times reading both The Troop and Little Heaven) or to totally fuck me up with a curveball (looking at you, GRRM).
I didn’t remember Orwell being in that category, but after this re-read he’s proven himself more than capable of manipulating emotions in furtherance of the story he tells.
Anyway, go read the book. It’s better than you remembered. Sorry if I spoiled the twist, but really, you should’ve read 1984 already. It’s your own fault.
HW Edwards talks about writing, books, life in LA and marketing here at Medium, and writes short fiction at Fictum. He quit Twitter and Facebook and has never been happier.
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