It was a bold move by George Orwell to name his story after the definitive Van Halen album. Sure, we all want to pay homage to our heroes, but Orwell (or any other writer for that matter) was only ever going to look amateurish next to the master lyricist, David Lee Roth. (If, by some grave injustice, you are unfamiliar with Roth’s work, pause your reading of this review and immediately look up the words to Van Halen’s “Drop Dead Legs”.) But, credit to Orwell, he produced a masterpiece in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Government worker, Winston, follows the rules as much as required. Good thing too, because in 1984 dystopian Britain, dissent or even individuality can get you killed, erased and forgotten. The all-powerful government—represented by the ever-present, godlike image of Big Brother—manipulates information through its propaganda machine; truth is whatever the media says it is. Winston has had enough of the lies (and his part in them). He takes a great risk and begins sharing his own thoughts and doubts, with his diary at first, but eventually with others who seem to understand him. In a society under almost total surveillance, Winston’s rebellious behavior cannot stay secret for long: he is soon arrested by the Thought Police. As a thought criminal, Winston faces no mere punishment or simple execution—before he may die he must undergo rehabilitation through torture and re-education. The extreme physical and psychological duress tests Winston’s faith in the truth: maybe two plus two does equal five if Big Brother says it must.
I loved navigating the world Orwell has created here. For science fiction it is a little bland, and physically and technologically not far removed from our own, but it is tense and creepy. The elaborate system of government control, the network of potential spies, and the constant charade Winston must uphold—I found it almost as absorbing as the guitar riffs in “Panama”.
Orwell’s prediction of society’s deterioration is interesting. He sees government control coming via crushing fear and miserable duty, communism style. In the Western world, I think the more likely road to slavery would be an oversaturation of pleasure, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Unfortunately though, Orwell seems spot on with the pervasive technology in the book, as well as the media’s rewriting of truth to fit its agenda. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a jam-packed lunchbox of food for thought, as intense as the intro to “Hot For Teacher”.
Apart from some romance in the middle that lost my attention for a while, this novel is freaking brilliant. George Orwell has given us something as iconic as the keyboard intro to “Jump”. A true classic. 9/10
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