In May, we decided to read the classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell because, with the exception of Britannica, none of us had ever actually picked it up.
Not being a big fan of reading challenging books on my Kindle, I borrowed Britannica’s 1960s Penguin edition to read instead. This made me happy because it had that aged book smell and soft, thick pages that felt like they had been read enough times to be soft to the touch. It did also mean that the text was tiny and got even teenier at certain points but that’s still better than fighting through it on a Kindle. (There is an interesting divide in Smut Club between people who find it easier to read on their Kindle/iPad and those who prefer the physical books themselves. I’m a book girl.)
As for the book itself, I’m not sure where to start.
The overall opinion of Smut Club was that it was an incredibly unsettling novel that was challenging at times but satisfying in the end.
Personally, I didn’t like it.
I could happily have put it down and never picked it up again after about 3 chapters and definitely after the end of Part 1. (To be entirely honest, I don’t think the rest of the book actually added anything for me anyway, so maybe I should have!)
The world building in the first few chapters, where the hideous dystopian situation is laid out, is incredible. I loved it. Orwell held nothing back, he throws you in head-first and slaps you with the hopelessness and severity of everything.
Then he slaps you with it again and explains the political reason as to how it has happened.
By the end of part two it feels like you’re being beaten round the head with a political breeze block.
(The end of part two is actually just a political essay. The text got smaller and it stopped pretending to be a story for quite a while and just went all-out politics. That section was HARD WORK.)
Part three didn’t get any better for me. More stuff happened but I was so numbed to it all by then that I didn’t really care.
The stark, horrifying political point was made in the first few chapters of the book but for me, it never built to anything more. It felt like a lot of wasted effort by the end.
It has been a while now since I read it, and I have forgotten everything about every single character. I just had to look up their names. They were bland and uninspiring. I do remember getting a bit irritated by how the female lead always just fell asleep when things got too ‘difficult’ for her to understand.
Overall, I found it dull and hard to read but I do think this is mostly because it is a novel about realistic people in a realistic situation with a heavily political message throughout and that is exactly the kind of thing I hate to read!
I understand why it is a classic and why it is hailed as a great novel of its time and praised for the political foresight, but it wasn’t for me. 2.5/5*
At Smut Club it was suggested by Supernova and Britannica that I may actually prefer Orwell’s Animal Farm so I did go away and give that a go as well. (Yes, I borrowed another 1960s physical copy!)
It still isn’t my favourite book ever but I found it a lot more effective than Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The wide cast of characters that represented all walks of life, the development of the farm and the slow, subtle corruption of the society from above was brilliant and horrifying. It was scary and left me feeling much more riled up than Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Animal Farm made me feel the unfairness of the world far more acutely than the other novel – it was much shorter but had a much bigger effect on me. Nineteen Eighty-Four left me bored and frustrated whilst Animal Farm left me wondering about the similarities between current society and the society on the farm and how easily one could devolve to the other.
For me, Animal Farm did all the things Nineteen Eighty-Four apparently did to the rest of Smut Club.
Different strokes for different folks and all that!