Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) – George Orwell

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Nineteen Eighty-Four is a modern classic which has added an impressive number of words to our language. Big Brother and Room 101 are two such words, but it is the ideas and impressively accurate prediction of the future that makes this book so special for me.

The book was first published in 1949 and gives a grim prediction of what the future will be like 50 years on. It describes a totalitarian régime in a world dominated by war and fear.

I first read (and studied) Nineteen Eighty-Four at school, but re-read it recently for my book group.  I remember loving the book as a teenager; being impressed by the number and ingenuity of ideas present. There were so many different themes to discuss that it made the perfect book to study.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy re-reading it. I remembered the basic plot and a large number of the ideas from my teenage years, but although it was easy to read, I found it quite dull. The pace of the book was slow and I found myself becoming bogged down in the political descriptions. The book-within-the-book was a particular low point, with every word being a struggle to complete.

Some scenes were beautiful, but overall it was a dark, depressing book. The ending is shocking and I still remember it clearly, 17 years after first reading it –  the sign of a powerful book.

Nineteen Eighty-Four  is a classic, which deserves to be read and admired, but re-reading it in adulthood threw up more flaws than genius for me.

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48 Comments

  1. Simon S says:

    As you know I loved this book and think its one I will re-read over the years to come, though hopefully loving it more and more. I do think reading it in a day was a little over zealous but it whizzed by.

    Have just started your choice for next months group and is interesting to see some parallels appearing… looking forward to Thursday!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I haven’t noticed any parallels between Flowers of Algernon and 1984 yet (but I’m not very far in) – I’ll have to keep an eye out for them!

  2. Michelle says:

    Ahh.. I still have not read this book. Have always meant to, and never have.

    1. Jackie says:

      Michelle, There are so many books that I feel I should read, one day I’ll get round to most – hopefully!

  3. lizzysiddal says:

    I’m confused. How does such a negative review result in a 4-star rating?

    1. Jackie says:

      lizzy, Sorry if I confused you!

      1984 is the first book I have ever re-read, so it is possible that I will dislike all books on re-reading. I like reading for the plot – discovering what will happen next etc, so when I know this in advance I will probably always be disappointed.

      I loved 1984 when I first read it and the book is such an important, powerful book that it deserves a high rating for that alone. I think everyone should read this book, therefore it is recommended, therefore 4 stars.
      Does that make sense?

  4. Molly says:

    I also have never read the book, although it has been on the list for years. I am not fond of dark, depressing stories, but I think I must read this at some point in time.

    1. I think it’s fair to say that it is dark and depressing, but it also has many beautiful uplifiting moments and descriptions so you shouldn’t let it being dark put you off too much.

    2. Jackie says:

      Molly, I agree with Novel Insights – don’t let the dark nature of this book put you off. It didn’t move me to tears or depress me – it is just a bleak look at what society could become. It does have many nice sections and I do think everyone would benefit from reading it.

  5. Shona says:

    I read this as a teenager and loved it. I have re read it in quite a while so I am not so sure how I would find it now. But at that time it was an instant hit :)

    Thanks for reminding me to push this book on top of my reading pile

    1. Jackie says:

      Shona, It is great to hear that you enjoyed it as a teenager too. I’d love to know if you feel the same way now.

  6. Jo says:

    I’ve had to read and study this twice, at school and then university. Dark as it is, I loved it both times.
    Dylan keeps mentioning he wants to read this after he enjoyed animal farm, but I’m trying to put him off for a year or so till he’s a bit older. I’ll probably read it with him when he does though. We read animal farm together and it was interesting to see the differences in what we thought. I’d like to do that for 1984 too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I haven’t read Animal Farm yet. I have no idea how I managed to avoid it, but I really should get round to reading it soon. It is probably great to compare the two.

  7. Amanda says:

    Yes, the book within a book part is SO DULL. And I really find the end anticlimactic. But other than that, I like this book. I enjoyed Brave New World more in high school when we read both of them, t hough. I need to go back and reread BNW. I reread 1984 a bit over a year ago.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, I haven’t read Brave New World yet either – another book I need to add to the must read list!

  8. Steph says:

    Interesting review, Jackie. I haven’t read this one for a long time, but last night Tony mentioned something about it in a whole “remember when… ?” kind of way, and I was like, “Uh, no, I pretty much remember very little about 1984, except for the ending…” so clearly I’m due for a re-read!

    I thought it was interesting that you gave this one 4 stars even though you say you found it quite dull and quite flawed… I guess this is one of those books that is so hard to rate because one’s personal experience reading it is one thing, but then it is very hard to say it’s not worth reading! I understand the dilemma – it strikes me whenever I have to review a classic!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I remembered very little about 1984 before I started, but it only took a few pages for it all to come flooding back. Large sections were dull, but there were a lot of enjoyable bits too. I think I just have a problem with re-reading, so it is unfair to punish a book for that.

  9. Jenny says:

    I read this in high school, and I liked Animal Farm far better. I thought the satire in Animal Farm was more interesting, even though of course 1984 is quite chilling in spots. Then of course I was in charge of costumes and make-up for our drama department’s production of 1984, and that put me off the book probably for life.

    Don’t give up on rereading though! (she said anxiously)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I can’t imagine a drama production of 1984 – that must have been quite a feat – I can imagine how being immersed in something like that would put you off!

  10. Aarti says:

    This book was recently featured on my Rosie’s Riveters weekly post (you should do one, Jackie!) and caused a lot of discussion! I read it in high school, but don’t remember it very well. I certainly don’t remember the ending! I liked it, though. One of my first (and only) forays into sci-fi.

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, Thanks for asking me to do a Rosie post – I’ll try to think of someone. I commented on your post about Julia. I’m afraid that I didn’t have any strong emotions towards her. I need to know a character really well before I can form an opinion of them. I felt that Julia was very much a side character and I didn’t really get to know her enough.

  11. Kathleen says:

    I read this in high school (so many years ago) and remember the lively class discussions about the book more than the book itself. I’d love to re-read it and see what I think about it now. Much like you, I am afraid it would disappoint.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, This book did generate a great discussion at our book group. I think it is much better to be able to talk about 1984 with other people, as reading it in isolation isn’t as much fun (although I guess the same can be said about any book)

  12. Annabel says:

    Jackie – I’m with you in that the middle section was tedious, but I loved the rest – “loved” meaning – sent a shudder down my spine with the bleak vision of the future, and the mechanical romance, and the doubleunplusgood torturer. Like you it was a book group read, and a re-read for me, but as I hadn’t read it since school where I treated it as pure SF, now I can see the savage satire in this important book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I agree with you completely. It is hard to ‘love’ this book, but easy to admire it. I think I appreciated the satire when I studied it at school, but it is hard for me to really remember things like that – perhaps I am just projecting an insight I didn’t have?

  13. Yes, I agree that this is an important book. As you remember from when I reviewed this book a month or so ago, I think it is an important piece of literature, especially to the dystopian genre, but I found parts of it rather dull and was not sorry when it ended.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity, I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed to finish it either. I would love to know what I’d think if I read it for the first time today. I wonder if it was boring because I’d read it before, or because it would be dull whenever I read it? I wonder if I had more patience with these things as a teenager, or whether I’ve just forgotten that I was bored by it then too? So many questions I’ll never know the answer too!

  14. Alyce says:

    I read 1984 last year, and I remember being completely shocked by the ending. It’s one of those endings that make you think, but also gives the shivers. I think it’s so powerful because it makes you think not only about how propaganda is used, but how scary it would be to not realize that you were a part of it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, I was very shocked by the ending, but it is even more shocking to watch on film – those rats really scare me, and I’m not normally afraid of rats.

      The propoganda aspect of the book didn’t really scare me, as it doesn’t seem likely to occur, at least to that degree, in my lifetime (unlike Blindness by Jose Saramago, which freaks me out as that could happen tomorrow)

  15. She says:

    I’m sorry your rereading of it wasn’t as fabulous as the first time.

    I still need to read it. I never had to in high school and its been on my list forever. I just need to bite the bullet and do it! Thanks for reminding me!

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I do think that this book should be on everyones ‘must read’ list. I hope that you get round to it at some point.

  16. Rebecca says:

    This is actually one of my favorite reads ever. I agree that it is a book everyone should get around to reading. I was quoting from it when the last president was in office. ;) But, seriously, I think it is a fantastically smart book and really a horror book when you realize how easily this could happen.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, This book isn’t one of my favourites, but I agree that Orwell showed great insight into the way our society was heading. I think that it was right for people to be scared reading this book in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but now we seem to have reached a point where we have progressed beyond his prediction and I’m not worried about this happening.

      A lot of his predictions have come true and although we are watched on CCTV etc I don’t think we’ll ever have the totalitarianism or the changing of history. With the launch of the Internet information is in the hands of the masses, so I don’t think we need to worry about a few powerful people changing hitory.

  17. Petunia says:

    I had a huge emotional reaction to this book the first time I read it. I was paranoid for a month. I hated it. But I decided to go ahead and reread it when I worked my way through a list of classics. The second time was completely different for me. I now consider it one of my favorite books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Petunia, It is really interesting to discover that you hated it on first reading, but loved it on the second – that seems to be the opposite to everyone else. What did you see on the second reading?

  18. Karen says:

    I too read this one in high school and I remember being quite impressed by it – I think we might have watched the movie too?? I do have a copy here but so far I haven’t jumped into the re-read – I think I am worried it might be a bit dark and gloomy now that I am an adult!

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, I don’t think that you’d find it gloomy – I’ve read a lot of books which are more depressing recently. I think perhaps I was more easily impressed as a teenager – I’ve read a lot more books since then and so it has probably dropped down the list.

  19. Biblibio says:

    First of all, I wouldn’t say that all rereads reveal disappointment the second time. I’ve grown to appreciate certain books with time and rereads (“The Grapes of Wrath”, for instance, didn’t blow me away the first time but when I read it again a few weeks later, more slowly and carefully, I experienced something completely new), while others do lose some of their glamour with the second go. It may not be the reread that ruined the book, but rather the way you read it. Perhaps it’s just not all that great a book.

    I haven’t reread “1984” for the simple reason that I didn’t really like it all that much the first time (also, I only read it about three years ago). Sure, I appreciated the classic aspects to it, but didn’t like how such a short book could take so long to read and how incredibly boring and dull it got at times. I’ve never had the opportunity to study this in school and while I suspect I might have appreciated it a bit more that way, I’ve found that every other book of Orwell’s I’ve read thus far (3 others, with another on deck) has far surpassed “1984”. It’s an interesting book but is poorly written and to a certain degree overhyped. It’s become almost larger than life. Some people relate to it excellently and find it brilliant, but I suspect I’m not alone in feeling that it’s mediocre as a book and only interesting with its general idea.

    1. Jackie says:

      Biblibio, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time and for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

      Perhaps 1984 was just a really bad choice for my first re-read. I’m still not convinced about the idea of re-reading books, but I’m sure I’ll give it a try again at some point.

      It is interesting to note that you think his other books are better. I will probably pick up another at some point.

      I’m off to have a look at your blog – Thanks again!

  20. Beth F says:

    Gosh! I don’t remember loving it when I read it for high school all those many years ago. I do remember thinking that 1984 was a ways off. I haven’t reread this one and never had the desire to!

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I had no desire to reread this either – I only did so because of my book group. I guess that reading this before 1984 made it have a bigger impact on you, but I understand you not wanting to re-read it.

  21. Dan Holloway says:

    I’m of that “certain age” – late mid thirties – who were just turning teenagers in 1984 and were made to sit down in class and read 1984. It didn’t do a huge amount for me (I was more interested in the Eurythmics video tie-in with the film) at the time. And I have to say it doesn’t do much for me now. I’m hugely ambivalent to Orwell (can you be “hugely” ambivalent?) because I love his “politics and the English language” essay – it’s still the best guide to writing smooth prose you can find. And he has some amazing ideas. But, strangely for someone so good at telling others how to write, I find his execution rather pedestrian.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, I have heard about Orwell’s guide to writing a lot, but never seen a copy. It is interesting that you think his writing isn’t great – makes me feel a bit better about only giving him 4 stars!

  22. Rebecca Reid says:

    I too was quite bogged down by the book within a book section. The concept of the society horrifies me, and reading it directly after a book about totalitarian Pakistan made it all the more moving. I think it’s one of those books one should probably read at some point, but it isn’t my favorite.

  23. I’ve never been able to finish this one because I find it so boring. Here’s my review: http://bibliofreakblog.com/fiction/1984-iby-george-orwellibad/

  24. cbjames says:

    This may be a case of reading the right book at the right time. I also read it in high school and loved it. I’ve never gone back to re-read it because I’m afraid I’m a different person now. Not sure the person I am now would like it so much.

  25. Stacy says:

    I’ve never read this and it has sat on my shelf mocking me for years. I need to get to it!

  26. Jeanne says:

    As you say, this is an important book, and everyone should read it. I’d say especially everyone in the U.K. today. In my household we just had a discussion about 1984 coming true in terms of all the surveillance cameras in England. There’s no obvious big brother yet, but certainly the government is watching you.

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