WEEKEND WEB: Why did it take me so long to pick up this prophetic book?
TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess
When I’m scrolling through Facebook I’m always drawn in by quizzes about the top 100 books you must read in your lifetime. On every list I see Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and, without fail, I tell myself I really must get round to reading it.
In fact, I sensed the all-seeing Big Brother glaring at me from the list and I knew I couldn’t pretend I’d read it, because he would know if I was cheating, clicking on it just to increase my score.
A few months ago I found the book on a shelf at my mum’s house in Newcastle. It had belonged to my dad. I took it home and eventually took the time to read it over the last few weeks.
Wow. Talk about being late to the party. No wonder it’s a classic: this bleak tale, written in 1949, describing a future world of oppression and misery.
If a book’s success can be measured by how much its vocabulary and concepts have become ingrained in society, then Orwell’s novel is indeed a masterpiece. There are so many references to it, not least the TV franchise Big Brother which has been providing viewers with a window into people’s behaviour, whether real or a play to the cameras, since 1999.
Room 101, another TV programme, always appears fairly tame: a place for celebrities to put things that tend to annoy them. It isn’t anywhere near as terrifying as the room in the novel, where the main character, Winston Smith, is taken, to be faced with his biggest fear.
Orwell’s view of the future, now 33 years in our past, has Smith working for the Ministry of Truth where he has to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Remind you of anything? Fake News?
And Newspeak, a new language with restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, doesn’t seem so strange when mobile phones led to us developing Textspeak. LOL. In 1984 the world is ruled by three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Orwell, living in the post-war world of the late 40s, described a future where the world was in a perpetual state of war but where the enemy was often changing. Prophetic indeed.
It’s a shame it took me so long to read a book which is referenced in many films, songs and art, but at least I have read it now. And it’s already helped me answer a question on University Challenge, which doubled my usual score.
Now that I’m feeling so worthy and educated, I’d like to continue this enrichment programme with some other books I really should have read by now. Would any readers of the Lincolnshire Free Press recommend their favourites? Let me know and I’ll make much better use of these dark winter evenings. Better than sitting in front of the telescreen, don’t you think?
• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk