I must have first read this book just after it was published but, honestly, I don’t remember much about it. I don’t think I really paid attention to it. I was a bad reader in those days. There are plenty of books series that I started but didn’t really take in. I think I was just reading for the sake of it. So, I never really had that great awakening thanks to Malorie Blackman. It’s a book that I always wanted to read again and give a better go. It also helped that the BBC adaptation was coming out and I didn’t want to watch it until I’d reread it. Of course, it got pushed back thanks to my ever-increasing TBR but the recent Black Lives Matters protests have pushed all books about race to the top. I figured this would be a relevant and quick read. As anyone who has ever read my review of The Power will know, I’m not always a fan of role reversal narratives. A lot of the time, they can be a bit cringe and heavy-handed. But this is one of those books that everyone loves. I went in expecting to enjoy it.
I’m not much of a gamer these days because I don’t have the time. I thought about jumping on the Animal Crossing bandwagon but I haven’t picked up my Switch since my birthday. It’s not worth spending the money for a few minutes use. Maybe when it’s cheaper. Back in the day, I spent most of my spare time playing video games. I’m not one of those gamers who likes MMOs but I enjoyed the classics. I recently started playing San Andreas again for the first time since I was a kid and it’s amazing. Yeah, the graphics are a bit dodgy by today’s standards but you can’t fault it as a whole. When we were kids, my sister and I used to be obsessed with the Tekken franchise. Mostly Tekken 3 on our Playstation. God, we played that game loads. My absolute favourite character was Julia Chang. She did this triple kick that was amazing. But that’s really beside the point. The point is, I’d never seen the Tekken film until this week. I just didn’t want to risk. We all know how terrible films based on video games can be.
When it comes to audiobooks the narrator is key. If you get a bad one it doesn’t matter how much you like a book. As I’ve said countless times recently, I’ve been using my audiobook binge as a reason to go back and reread books I’ve not read for a while. I’ve had the Audible edition of Fahrenheit 451 for a while now. I was really excited because it’s narrated by Tim Robbins. I can’t say he’s my favourite actor but you can’t not like Tim Robbins, right? So, I was excited to start listening and, after a weekend’s break, I started on my Monday commute. It should have been a book that I finished that day but I just couldn’t get into it. Robbin’s narration just didn’t engage me. He was too slow and laid back. There was no real fear or danger to his interpretation. His version of Montag just seemed like a bumpkin and that’s not how I imagine him. It took me ages to finish because I was so bored. And this is a book I genuinely love. It should have been easy but it wasn’t. In the hands of a different narrator, this story would have come to life. But, thanks to Robbins, I didn’t really care at all.
This is one of those classic cases of me being completely susceptible to marketing. There had been a poster advertising the paperback edition of this book at my train station. So, every morning on my way to work, I saw this book cover. I also saw the quote that described it as 1984 for our times or whatever. Well, it clearly worked because I had a huge urge to read this book. I didn’t really know much about it. But when it popped up in Amazon as a recommendation I had been conditioned enough to click on it. And it sounded great. I mean it took the Wall from Game of Thrones and added it to the modern world. I’m normally wary of dystopian novels because they tend to just be the same as each other. Nobody has written an original dystopian novel in years. I know there are plenty of people out there who will disagree but I haven’t been excited by one for ages.
It’s been a while since I read The Handmaid’s Tale which is why I wanted to read it before starting The Testaments. The original novel is one of those momentous pieces of fiction that, if you read it at the right time in your life, changes you. I mean, is it any wonder that a teenage girl reading one of the most important pieces of political literature turned out to be this outspoken little feminist? But more than that. Margaret Atwood is one of the greatest writers in recent years so it definitely helped shape me as a reader. However, I have to make a point before I carry on. Just as I ranted before my Blinded by the Light review, I have something to ask. Can we please stop saying that we’re living in a world like we see in the novel? I’m not trying to suggest that things are great right now but America’s (undeniably) severe policies regarding abortions and birth control are not the same thing. And to suggest that it is would ignore the genuinely horrible conditions that many women experience around the world. Like the young girls forced into marriages or the girls facing female genital mutilation. Yeah, every woman should have the right to an abortion but at least you aren’t being sold into sex slavery by your family. Yes, we still have a long way to go but we’re nowhere near Atwood’s dystopia just yet.
I had a random encounter with a stranger because of this book. This isn’t something that normally happens to me but a woman approached me because of what I was reading. During a short train ride this weekend, I was rushing to finish my chapter before I got off at the final stop. Prompting a fellow passenger to tell me I’d have to finish it later. She then informed me that she’d recently bought the book for her daughter but she hadn’t read it yet. I’m not used to this happening because I’m always fearful of popular fiction. Meaning I’m not normally reading books that are topping the best sellers lists. That wasn’t supposed to sound like such a weird and patronising brag as it does. I just mean, I’m normally met with blank stares or bemused nods when someone spies the cover of my current read.
Movie titles are a funny old thing aren’t they. Sometimes you hear them and have no interest in watching the film. I know that, if I hadn’t known all about Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver I would have assumed it would have been a shitty family comedy or animation. Meaning I would have dismissed it and lost out on one of the most fun film experiences of last year. On the other hand, some films have the kind of titles that you can’t ignore. Snakes on a Plane is an obvious example and I still can’t believe some stupid executive attempted to change it. Thank god for Samuel L, eh? Of course, there are more than enough times that these unmissable titles are the best thing about a film. It’s something I’ve come across a lot when researching which 1988 films to watch for this series. There are a lot of random but amazing titles out there but the films don’t sound like they’ll measure up. This was something I definitely suspected from today’s pick. A classic B movie with no budget, bad acting, but a lot of aspiration. But I couldn’t deny that I was instantly hooked by the title.
I’m a liar. Or at least I was a liar. For more years than I’d care to admit to I lied about having read you. Don’t judge me. I was a teenage literary student who hadn’t read one of the most revered books of all time. How could I possibly admit to not having read Orwell’s classic? So I didn’t. I not only pretended that I’d read you but that I loved you. I had discussions with friends about you. I argued in your favour. It was ridiculous. But I got away with. In fact, it was so easy that I decided that I could continue to put you off. It seemed like a massive hassle when I was so good at bullshitting.
I eventually did read you and I enjoyed you. I think I always had a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t love you as much as I’d always pretended but I ignored it. I’d finally read the book that so many people loved. The ultimate in dystopian fiction. I finally felt worthy of the title of book nerd. Even if I did, secretly, just wish I’d read Animal Farm again. That nagging feeling of doubt continued to get to me. That gnawing in the back of my brain that said “1984 isn’t actually that good” was impossible to shake. So, a couple of years ago, I reread you. And I came to a decision.
You aren’t a great novel. But you aren’t a bad novel either. I think there are a lot of great ideas at play in this work and I appreciate your overall message. I get the point of Orwell trying to point out the dangers of totalitarianism and I understand that you hold an important place in literary history. I get it. But all of that cleverness under the surface doesn’t change the fact that, really 1984, you aren’t that great a book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that on my last read through I was bored. I didn’t even finish you! I just couldn’t do it.
However, I understand that it would be wrong to totally dismiss you. So I’m using a phrase that Orwell himself discusses in great detail. You are a good bad book. Orwell defines this terms as:
the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously
Which I think sums up my feelings about you, 1984. I love you as an idea and I love so many aspects of you. There are plenty of moments that I think are relevant today and your narrative never fails to start some sort of discussion. You are a book that never fails to excite me in some way. However, I find that I can’t really take you seriously. You can’t deny that you are flawed, right?
I mean you’re so melodramatic and kind of ludicrous. There are so many parts of the plot that just seem insane and absolutely unworkable. We all know that Big Brother is a very obvious caricature of Stalin, yes, but there are aspects of his government that just wouldn’t work. It’s not a system with any kind of longevity. Plus, I can’t help but feel that Orwell has been a bit too obvious with the whole analogy thanks to his powerful hatred of communism. It just lacks the necessary subtlety to always work.
You also lack a lot of subtlety in terms of writing. Orwell is clumsy and long-winded. I mean think of the huge section where we sit and watch Winston reading a book. I think I skipped most of it in my last read. I can’t help but feel that there was a better way to get this information across to the reader. There is so much detail piled in here to get Orwell’s point across that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the story. And don’t even get me started on the attempt to realise a Cockney accent. It’s mega cringe.
And I’m only saying this because you’re still a good enough book that it won’t matter. You’ve changed the world of literary and you’ve changed the world in general. You have seeped into society. You’ve changed our language. You’ve empowered people to stand up for themselves. You’ve forced us to see the negatives in front of our eyes. You’re also not completely terribly written. There are some passages of stunning descriptions of your dystopian world. You have endured for good reason. But, it would be amiss of me not to point out that you are flawed. That’s probably what makes you so impressive. For something so ridiculous to be so powerful is, perhaps, the true definition of a literary classic. So, I’ll continue to defend you but I’ll be doing so well-aware that beneath your legend there is the frail, flawed body. You look like the Disney Hercules after his training but are, in fact, Disney Hercules before his training. Still a demi-God but a much less impressive one.
Confession is not betrayal