I can understand the cultural significance of this book – it’s so significant I don’t need to explain to you what this book is about: you know.
That might be one of the reasons I felt this to be utterly boring: I don’t think I learned a thing, it all felt so familiar, generic even.
Because of its central place in the Western literary canon, my feelings about 1984 are hard to parse. Might I have loved this if I hadn’t known so much about it? If I’d read it when it first came out?
I’m not so sure. It felt like Orwell was preaching the entire time, and I generally don’t like MESSAGE literature. I didn’t like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t feel fully realistic either.
Another issue: I didn’t buy Orwell’s future world. It seemed so binary – everything in service of Orwell’s didactics. I missed the path towards the state of affairs described: such a path would be complex & interesting, but Orwell basically reduces the Ingsoc state system to a bad boogeyman, and the motivations of the characters that installed and sustain this system aren’t really explored. Indeed: I missed a certain kind of depth.
I know I’m in a minority position. The cultural norm is to like books that are against totalitarianism: over 4 million ratings on Goodreads, with a 4.19 average. Most dissident voices on Goodreads – the one and two star reviews – say the same: not enough story, too much essay, bland characters, heavy-handed exposition, a cartoon villain.
That said: what Orwell does extremely well is illustrate blatant lies as a powerful political method.
ps – For those of you who don’t read the comments, somebody posted a link to a 1984 review Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980. Asimov is highly critical, and raises interesting points. Definitely worth your time.
His text is here: http://www.newworker.org/ncptrory/1984.htm or here https://redsails.org/asimov-on-1984/.
Consult the author index for my other reviews, or my favorite lists.
Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.