Issue 12: Vhcle Books: 1984
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Down-at-heel and prematurely ageing, Winston is no dashing hero. Instead, he's an everyman – imperfect, often afraid and absolutely relatable. Like so many of us he's not entirely sure what it is that he wants, but he knows it's something more than what he's currently being offered. Something more than O'Brien's chilling depiction of the future as "a boot stamping on a human face – forever". That you could transpose yourself atop his character makes his eventual fate all the more harrowing. He's caught by the Thought Police; he caves under pressure and betrays his lover; he ends up ironed into submission by an oppressive, tyrannical state that wields absolute power simply for its own sake.
There is no glory in this tale. Orwell's unheroic hero is unceremoniously crushed, and you're left in no doubt as to how a similar scenario would play out with any other protagonist. No happy ending; instead a defeated man, a bottle of clove gin, and a sense of grim inevitability. And Big Brother, always watching.

Read this review in Issue 13

Emma Davies is a journalist from the south-west of England. She likes books, red wine and her duvet, and is at her happiest when managing to combine this trio of good things.
Read other articles by Emma Davies
The image from 1984 that lingers longest in the memory is not the ambiguous terror of Room 101. It's not the all-seeing, all-knowing pdeuso-mythical figure of Big Brother. It's not even the prospect of a world in which even thought is controlled. No, it's the ending: a solitary man, sat in the corner of a disreputable cafe, soaked in substandard gin and broken into submissive obedience. That people are fallible and resistance against the regime proves futile is a theme that runs throughout much of Orwell's work – but it's here it finds perhaps its most haunting expression.
That's not to say, of course, that there isn't plenty else that sticks in the mind. From the very outset, you're plunged into a world from which hope has been actively banished. Everything is in a state of grimy disrepair, London split between the liberty-starved Party members and the squalid underclass of the proles. It's an alien presentation of a familiar city, and it's this jarring quality that unsettles you long before the horrors contained within the Ministry of Love's imposing building are made explicitly apparent.
It's by degrees that said horrors are unveiled. Although it dawns on Winston in an awful moment of clarity that Room 101 contains "the worst thing in the world" – he also realises that he has, deep down, always known this. It's a clever illustration of how entirely the 'doublethink' principle (simultaneously holding two contradictory ideas in your mind) has pervaded Oceania. Even those who think themselves above it are, in fact, not.
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Reviewed by Emma Davies
Vhcle Books Issue 13