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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

'1984' by George Orwell

1984 - George Orwell, Erich Fromm

Is it bad that I had low expectations for this book? I do really love George Orwell's writing, and to be fair it exceeded them easily. I had the same question going into Brave New World: school's teach these just a year or two after you are reading YA dystopias and everyone conscripts them to make political points. The impression just stuck that these are books making a point and whenever a piece of art has a point to make there are so many traps.


1984 does fall to these traps at times. It gets really involved in the mechanisms of power and tends to drag, not the least because these things become a red herring in the real world. We've constantly got our eyes on technology but any number of books out of the former Soviet Union show the much more usual and practical terror that is other people.


Orwell does grasp this better than most. He does away with the baby farms and shining towers and puts terror in the normal setting of run-down streets. People still present the greatest danger but we do get plenty of description about deeply convoluted government controls. When he gets to the story 1984 really stands out. Because the world is closer to ours, because the people are not cheery zombies but also because they may as well be, the stakes seem higher. Winston Smith isn't some glitch with magic powers, he may not even be that unusual, but like in the Soviet states, snitching is the culture and by design. Not reporting something unusual is punishable and thus nobody can be trusted.


Also, considering 1984 is the standard bearer of dystopian futures, it's a surprise so few have the guts to follow that ending. From the arrest which seems to come so early — too early I thought, surely there will be an escape and then the real conflict — I was completely off balance. Only the movie Brazil has even ventured down this road and, while I loved how that ended, Orwell truly pulls no punches in the finale here. Smith is completely and utterly defeated. There is no opening for hope here except to not reach this world. Smith is playing chess at the end and the analogy is apt, chess doesn't end in a strike, it ends in a trap. Checkmate is when all routes of escape have been cut off.


Why only 4 stars? I couldn't get over the impression that this was more ~important~ than Great. It dragged at points, it was just bad at others and though most of it was very good I just couldn't place it among the books I really admire.