If Ayn Rand were a democratic socialist...
I enjoyed this book when I first read it. I've a thing for dystopian futures, artlangs (like Newspeak or Burgess's Nadsat
), war, politics, economics, espionage, etc. For me, this book had it all. It really struck a chord with me; I remember actually very disturbed by its grim-seeming ending (the exact nature of which, and whether it's really all that grim at all, is disputed). I love the way the world was simultaneously fleshed out and obfuscated, particularly.
The more I dwell on the book, though, the less I enjoy it. In fact, I've come to dislike Eric Arthur Blair (Mr. Orwell) and Nineteen Eighty-Four's
spiritual sister Animal Farm
. Several things about it have come to bother me, not the least of which is its political message (in fact, in light of Blair's "demsoc" leanings, I may very well be the type of "bad communist" he wrote this book to vilify). However, I think I can safely say -not as a "Stalinist" but as a reader- that Blair's work here is simply not the poignant masterpiece it's made out to be. I compare Blair to Rand in the title of this review because I find some striking similarities in their works, even if Blair is -no contest- the better writer.
Even where anvils need to be dropped, a clear-cut good-evil binary is simply not interesting, and that's exactly what we have in this novel. The reader is not allowed
to come to any conclusion other than to the inherent evil of the Party. Sure, Smith is shown to have made some morally ambiguous statements (acid in a child's face?), but that doesn't mitigate the rather sophomoric moral
being spoon-fed to us. Masterpieces have points to make, sure, but they shouldn't have morals
in the way a fable might. And that's what this is: not a masterpiece, not a fully matured work of art, but a fable. It's a comic book without pictures and with a seriously downer ending. This is particularly frustrating for someone who wants to read a book to explore
new ideas and worlds, not to be converted
This book is also particularly infuriating in that, despite being a work of fiction and a self-admitted author tract, it tends to color people's view of the Soviet Union, knowledge of its actual history occasionally scribbled in as an afterthought, and socialism in general, despite Blair's personal politics.