I liked this much more on the second read, though I still didn’t love it. It was riveting, and almost prophetic, though Orwell missed the date by a few decades.
The protagonist, Winston Smith is a petty bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth, where he revises newspaper and magazine stories, to conform to the government’s ever changing version of the truth. Smith secretly hates the government and its leader Big Brother. Such hatred is a thought crime punishable by death, so Smith drudges on impotent to change anything. He becomes obsessed with Julia, a woman he initially loathes, as she appears to be an obedient party tool – until she slips him a note professing her love. The two begin a dangerous liaison and Smith learns he is not alone, as Julia is connected with an underground resistance.
The reader is thrilled for Smith – no longer an impotent drone, but also fears that each rendezvous only increases the risk of discovery.
It isn't meant to be cheery of course, it's meant to warn us of a future that could be. In that regard it's quite brilliant. Orwell wrote it in the 40s, and though he was well off on dates and specific technologies, the bigger principles of revisionist history, government invasion of privacy, and thought crimes are not at all extraordinary. In that regard, the warning is still as poignant as ever.
I was very intrigued by Newspeak, the official language in Orwell's vision of the future. Newspeak eliminated countless redundancies of English. We have words such as : small, tiny, little, that mean essentially the same thing, and then multiple other words that mean the opposite such as: big, large, huge, etc. Newspeak eliminates all but one of these, and then with a prefix and two suffixes covers the entire range: small, smaller, smallest, unsmall, unsmaller, and unsmallest. The pragmatic in me thinks this is brilliant. But the romantic finds it to be the unbeautifulest language imaginable.
Film Rendition: Released in, you guessed it 1984, is true to the book, and possibly more depressing with the bleak imagery. I would never have considered John Hurt as Winston Smith, but he pulled it off quite convincingly.