Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
This being 2012, one wonders why I would choose to read "1984" now, it being a futuristic novel about a time that has come and gone without seeming very, well..., futuristic. Good question, but one without a very good answer. It was written before I was born so I missed whatever hoopla might have surrounded its release. In the 60's when I was in High School, it was still being talked about, but by then 1984 wasn't far enough in the future to grab my interest. Then the actual year 1984 went by and I forgot the book existed. Two years ago when I began this blog, I started seeing it mentioned again, that and dozens of other titles I thought I should have read a long time ago but never did. So I made a list - a list of books I feel bad about never having read and I've set myself the task of finishing the list before I "shuffle off this mortal coil". We'll see.
The main character is Winston Smith. He works for the "Ministry of Truth", where truth is defined by the government , and changes according to what they want you to believe today. Winston works with many others "in 3000 rooms above ground" continually rewriting history so that it says what "The Party" wants it to say.
His life, and everyone else's is monitored with telescreens and microphones and the "Thought Police". Everything he does, everywhere he goes, who he speaks to and what he says is all known as soon as he does it. He has lived this way long enough to be fully indoctrinated into accepting that this is how it must be, that there is no way to change it, and yet he secretly wonders what life was like before it was like this. He sometimes has flashes of memory - of faces, sounds and smells from another way of life. He's curious, a seriously dangerous state to be in.
In the midst of his drab existence an unheard of thing happens. A young woman slips a note to him that says simply "I love you." The remainder of the story is about how he responds, how they together try to live life out of "The Party's" reach, and how that works out for them. This book fits into the category that is now called "dystopian", so I don't think I'll be spoiling it for anybody when I say to not expect any happy endings.
All in all I'm glad I read it. There are endless references to it in other books that I'll be able to appreciate now, and I get to cross it off my "guilt list". I can't say I liked it; it's dark and serious and horrifying. I do think it's worth reading though, even if you read it as I did - hoping it would soon be over so it would stop making me so uncomfortable. No pain, no gain, I guess, and I find myself a little more aware and a little more protective of the freedoms I enjoy than I was before "Nineteen Eighty-Four".