Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Article excerpt


Growing up in Sixties suburban London was rather like lying in tepid bathwater for several years. Into this sleepy complacency fell Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book that entrapped me for life. I was on the cusp of adolescence, reading voraciously, gradually testing the limits of my smug world, and bought it in the Popular Book Centre Greenwich, a seedy secondhand shop with a nice line in top-shelf smut. As we were still 15 years away from the novel's date, I naively assumed it would provide futuristic rocket adventures.

Heinemann printed it as part of the Modern Novel Series, a catch- all collection that included LP Hartley and Somerset Maugham. The blank green-and-white cover hid any indication of the content. I skipped the deadening introduction by Stephen Spender and arrived at the first line. "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." Unable as I was to access any notion of "dystopia", the blunt, angry prose hit me like a bucket of cold water in the face.

Rearrange the title date and you have the year of publication, and the key to the style. There's hardly a page of Nineteen Eighty- Four that doesn't reflect the cadging gruesomeness of wartime life, from the ever-present smell of old mats and boiled cabbage to the cigarettes that lose their contents if held upright. Although I didn't grow up with these deprivations, they could be sensed through my mother and father, worn down by them. …