It’s a sad day when I have to tell myself “No X-Files on Amazon Prime for you until you finish your book”.
What’s the problem, it’s a classic, right? Yes but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). Many books are labeled classics for different reasons. Some are classics because of beautiful writing, great ideas, famous authors, the first of its kind, a new way of writing. Just because a book is labeled a classic doesn’t mean that everyone will like it.
And here’s the very secret part…you don’t have to like it.
For movies and tv shows, people support the general belief that everyone will like something different and that while there are some famous and infamous classics, that belief still stands. But for books, “classics” are held in a higher regard, especially literature.
1984 by George Orwell is famous for it’s ideas and uniquely bleak outlook on the future and what it could become. Downright scary and depressing. I will give it props for that but Orwell is too utilitarian and clunky in his writing and storytelling. Rather than a beautifully knit sweater in which every stitch is in place and works together to create a seamless whole, 1984 is rough around the edges and shows signs of construction here and there. Perhaps it’s my snooty college English major sensibilities pointing out these bit and pieces that to me stick out, but it just doesn’t flow and build like other novels. Mr. Orwell, I am deeply sorry but I believe that your editor failed you and maybe he did because he saw the point of your novel and left it intact instead of encouraging you to craft and refine it more into a tale with a vision.
Am I too harsh? Say so in the comments, but I don’t think so. Especially after reading Brave new world, in which every sentence is clearly crafted to flow and move the story forward in an engaging, purposeful way. Some parts of 1984 that stick out are the handful of pages of the Brotherhood’s book–a text within a text is hard to pull off, and just bogs the narrative down; didactic, if you want a technical English term. Also, info dump is more jargon than a legit term but it occurs often in the novel, without warning; here, know this now, whether it fits in or not to the plot right now doesn’t matter.
Animal farm is another Orwell novel that I did read in high school and remember that it was difficult to get through as well but that it’s ideas were what compelled me to continue reading it. A communist farmyard run by pigs. It’s still a radical idea which is why it also persists as a classic to many people. And it should.
Novels aren’t meant to be easy. Rather, it’s the difficult and challenging ones that are usually the most rewarding, covering hard or taboo topics. But the writing shouldn’t get in the way of the reading. I know David Foster Wallace meant for Infinite Jest to be a labyrinth of scattered pieces that create a tapestry in the end. And Italio Calvino in If on a winter’s night a traveler wants the effect of jarring the reader to create awareness that the reader is reading; it’s purposefully meta. But I don’t think Orwell meant to jar the reader at all, rather he just didn’t craft his novels. 1984 feels unfinished in a sense, like it needs another revision to smooth everything out.
Rambling is the best word for it. The novel is a blind wandering forward, to an end but meanders in getting there.
Recommended? I’m torn. On one hand it’s a classic for its radical vision of the future and should be read by all to prevent anything remotely like this from happening. Yet… Overall, I’m going to say that people should read 1984 to know it and all the references that were spawned from it; in that sense it’s a very valuable lesson. However, if you pick it up, you must persist to the end. I’m glad that I finished this book. Will I read it again? No. Reading it once was enough. Like watching the movie The black swan.
No wonder some of these works remain on my bookshelf for years–it’s tough getting through depressing and dark novels. I enjoy adventure and fun in addition to the dark corners and topics in life but eyeing up my shelf for what remains, I worry that there is more like this to come. The other book that I bought in Wooster on my guilt-trip of books that I hadn’t read was Anna Karenina, which I know vaguely about and pretty sure had the ending spoiled for me; and despite my interest in it, that will need to remain on my shelf for a while longer, until I’ve gotten through some other types of books before I return to hopeless books.
Still deciding on what comes next…I’ll have to look a couple over before I decide but I hope the post won’t take as long for the next book!
Infinite update: Made it to page 101 and footnote 42! Blazing my way through it…right. Back with the cross-dressing agent in the desert, but waiting to get back to Hal who I feel is the most interesting and really the center of the book from what I can tell.