Eric Blair is better known by his pen name, the writer George Orwell. It’s difficult to know how to address him in this letter but, as his writing means so much to me, I will settle on ‘George’.
In the mid-70s, as I approached my O-levels, we were asked to select the books to study for our English Literature examinations. There was, I recall, a choice of some thirty titles and several copies of each were set out on tables for us to browse. I thumbed a few volumes before coming upon one called Nineteen Eighty-Four. I can still remember, as clear as day, turning to the opening page and reading:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled in to his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
I was hooked. And why shouldn’t I be? That paragraph has it all: a character, a location, a situation and intrigue – all wrapped with delicious descriptions. I read the whole book in a few days and have done so at least 20 times since. In my experience, only you are able to sustain the magnetism of that first paragraph throughout a novel. You achieve it in all your works, but Nineteen Eighty-Four is the masterpiece.
What’s more, how many novels invent a whole new language? Newspeak is as frightening as it is creative, in its attempt to restrict expression through limiting language. The words and concepts of thoughtcrime, duckspeak and unperson still make me shiver. And the relationship between Winston and Julia is an unsettling latticework of sex, loneliness, love and betrayal. But what frightens me the most is how our own society becomes a reflection of this fictitious nightmare just a little more as each year passes.
I have enjoyed all your novels over the years but, if I had my ‘desert island moment’ and had to choose a book to take with me, I would stick my neck out and ask for two: the first would be a world atlas, because an atlas is a trigger for the imagination. The second would be Nineteen Eighty-Four, for the same reason.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Copyright (C) George Orwell, 1948
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Copyright (C) George Orwell, 1948. Extract reprinted by kind permission of Bill Hamilton as the Literary Executor of the Estate of the Late Sonia Brownell Orwell