I've been a bit slack keeping you up-to-date with my reading progress this year haven't I? I've been reading furiously as usual but somehow finding time to write about the books has been more difficult than finding the time to read them! You may remember that some time ago I decided to read George Orwell's anti-totalitarian classics, 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.
I have a bit of a phobia about reading 'syllabus books' so had avoided reading these titles for years. I've always resented being compelled to read a particular book and I've never been really into the idea of pulling a book apart and putting it back together. Instead I like to experience a book as closely as possible to the way the author intended - I even wait until I've finished the book before reading the introduction and endnotes!
Anyway, I think I left my run too late to read 'Animal Farm'. The characters, plot and moral of the story are just so well known that I had a strange sense of deja-vu all the way through it. Reading 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', however, was a revelation. I was hooked from the first sentence...'It was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen'. Although Orwell has been criticised for not writing very rounded characters, I really warmed to the main character Winston as he struggled to carve out a little piece of happiness for himself in a world where individuality and privacy are outlawed. The moments of happiness he shares with fellow worker Julia in the countryside and above the quaint old second-hand shop are like moments suspended in time as we are always aware that the life they have set up is as fragile as the glass paperweight Winston carries around with him.
As the reality of their situation starts to catch up with Winston and Julia, the second half the book develops a more serious, philosophical tone (I can well imagine my 16 year old self throwing the book aside at this point) and the sense of inevitablility that has built throughout the book comes to a climax. Will they or won't they agree to follow the party line and admit that 2 + 2 = 5?
More than sixty years on 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' is still shockingly relevant in both its description of totalitarian rule and its investigation of what makes us tick - the pull of memory, the need to connect with others and most importantly the need to have a place where we can feel 'utterley alone, utterly secure, with nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock.'
If you haven't already read it perhaps 2011 should be the year you do...
'Winston was gelantinous with fatigue'. (I read that sentence while I was in hospital with Henry having not really slept for two nights so it really hit home!).
'He wondered, as he had many times wondered before whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one'.
'It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rain-water, in both the colour and texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anenome...What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different to the present one. The soft rain-watery glass was not like any glass he had even seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness...'