Why I’m putting ‘1984’ in Room 101
I don’t know quite how it slipped through the net, but until now I had never read ‘1984‘. As it’s on our 100 greatest novels reading list , I thought it was time I rectified the situation. There can’t be many books that have been plundered as thoroughly for cultural references. The thought police, Newspeak, Room 101, and, of course, Big Brother, have all developed cultural identities of their own – not to mention spawning multiple television series.
If a novel or film generates huge media hype, it’s a tough call to meet those raised expectations. In 1978 the UK went nuts for the film ‘Grease‘. Everybody in my school got to see it except me, thanks to the intervention of a church busybody who advised my parents to shield my fragile soul from such a corrupting influence. I was furious. I was heartbroken. Worst of all, I was ostracised from the entire universe and all of my friends because I couldn’t contribute anything to their discussions of Sandy and Danny Zuko. When I finally got to see the film ten years later, it was a total let down. But with my expectations so out of proportion, how could it possibly have been anything else?
Having heard so much about the novel over the years, I suspected that reading ‘1984‘ would be similarly underwhelming, and I was right. What I wasn’t expecting – and George Orwell lovers should look away now – was that I’d absolutely hate it.
I enjoyed ‘Animal Farm’, so I was unprepared for the blandness of the writing. It was insufferably dull. I find it remarkable that Orwell could write a story thick with the claustrophobia of surveillance, the perils of engaging in illegal behaviour with all the associated risks and bleak consequences, not to mention scenes of torture, but manage to make it sound so pedestrian.
I’ve been going over the text to try and work out what was so frustrating and I’ve narrowed it down to two things. Firstly, Orwell suffers from a serious case of ‘why say something once when you can say it in a multitude of times’. For instance, Winston’s oft repeated descriptions of the gestalt shift between crippling fear of being caught and anaesthesia of idyllic self-denial that the lovers experience during their trysts, not only gave me a sense of deja vu, but drained the emotional impact of scenes which should have given me knotted shoulders from the mounting tension.
Secondly, all those endless turgid passages describing Winston’s thoughts and feelings are the perfect demonstration of why writers should show, not tell. Yawn! I think that what frustrates me most of all is that these are easily rectifiable symptoms of writers’ laziness. A good edit and a re-write could have done wonders, but it won’t stop me condemning ‘1984‘ to Room 101. I just hope I’ve been convincing enough to make Frank Skinner pull that lever.