Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
As much a cultural and historical marker as an absorbing thriller, George Orwell’s 1984 changed and continues to change the way we think about the past and imagine the future. Perhaps the most pervasively influential novel of the twentieth century, 1984 resonates so completely have to become part of our commonplace lexicon, with words like doublethink and Big Brother (it was also Orwell who first coined the term ‘Cold War’) becoming part of the fabric of everyday life and speech.
As the critic and author Jonathan Freedland wrote about 1984, ‘it has become a shorthand for totalitarianism, for the surveillance state, for the power of the mass media to manipulate public opinion, history and even the truth.’
Yet before all of this, 1984 is also a brilliant, compelling, knife-edged thriller, dark with menace and nail-biting tension.
1984 is the story of one man, who could be everyman, Winston Smith. Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.
1984 is a book that remains as fresh and sharply resonant now as when Orwell first published it in 1949. More than half a century on, it continues to be one of the foundation stones in any Waterstones bookshop; a book that deserves and demands to be read.
‘It’s not only journalists who should be in awe of George Orwell. Anyone embarking on a political thriller should look to 1984 – to see how it’s done.’ – The Independent
You can find many of the sites that inspired the works of George Orwell on a modern map, including the original inspiration for Animal Farm nestling up a quiet East Sussex road. These days known primarily for his disturbing and influential dystopian works, most notably 1984, Orwell was best regarded for most of his career as a journalist and critic and his fiction and many essays, are equally rooted in a very real-world view.
Well-travelled and socially and politically engaged, Orwell drew from a life of wide experience in his writing; from times of abject poverty living as a tramp on the streets of London, to exploring social deprivation in northern England, to mingling with political elite and fighting in the Spanish Civil War. His best known works of non-fiction include: Down and Out in Paris and London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.