Oranges & lemons

Ok, so this post isn’t actually about citrus fruit. Since starting my new job (complete with hour long commute) I have been consuming audiobooks, which I supplement with reading bits of the paperback too, in droves. Since starting I’ve started and finished a raft of classics including The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Crime & Punishment, Catch 22, Waiting for Godot, the Picture of Dorian Grey, Metamorphosis, Lord of the Flies and Orwell’s 1984.

Some of these books have been, much as advertised, a great pleasure. Others (I’m looking at you Melville & Dostoyevsky) were, to say the least, a hard slog. However, the one that stood out head-and-shoulders to me was 1984. I read Animal Farm years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it despite the fact I had very little knowledge of the Russian revolution and therefore probably didn’t get much out of the integral allegory. So, with a good feeling about Orwell at the ready I dove in gleefully. 1984 was wonderfully paced and so perfectly balanced between reality and fantasy that you can’t fail to reflect on how close this (seemingly) impossible nightmare world is to our reality. The tension that it manages to produce and manipulate is astounding, especially to me as I rarely get that enthralled in a book.

The thing that really struck me however is Orwell’s forethought into the mechanics of language, politics and technology that would be required to produce such a world. The ‘New Speak Dictionary and perpetual warfare that may, or may not, exist is a wonder of creation. Ordinarily ,with anything that tries to fabricate a new world, there are plot holes so big you could park a small van in them that you simply have to pretend not to see. In 1984 however, I didn’t see any. The mechanisms with which the new world order had arisen and was sustained is terrifyingly feasible. What is more exceptional (and this too applies to Animal Farm) is that the book was published in 1949 (and Animal farm in 1945) and yet they both predict with shocking accuracy the state of things to come with nothing more than applied logic. I am truly in awe of the intellectual capacity of Orwell to see all these moving parts in motion and predict their outcomes decades before their happening.

Also, on a less dystopian, and more appropriate note… the new penguin classic cover for 1984 (shown above) is a work of minimalist genius. The cover is identical to the battered 1960’s copy I prize on my rapidly filling book shelf but with the title and author overprinted in black (as on censored military documents). The text still appears however, as an emboss, much as a pen would imprint on paper. Winston, the books main protagonist, is concerned, in his line of work at the Ministry of Truth, with doctoring and altering literature & journalism. I can only imagine that, with this manipulation of the written word, language and the truth throughout the book, that this was the aspect of the new world Orwell despised most. To encapsulate all of that by simply adding a print finishing technique to the original, iconic cover is an enviable achievement in my book. Bravo penguin.

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