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Home Uncategorized The Glimmer

The Glimmer

Martin Tyrrell
The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by Dorian Lynskey, Picador, 368 pp, £16.99, 978-1509890736 “It wouldn’t have been so gloomy if I had not been so ill,” Orwell supposedly said of Nineteen Eighty-Four. And even on the closest reading the novel seems a relentlessly cheerless affair. Airstrip One ‑ previously England ‑ is shabby and neglected, a grim place: “underfed people … in leaky shoes … patched up nineteenth century houses that smelt always of cabbage and bad lavatories”. Winston Smith ends up not so much defeated as effaced. The Party’s rule seems total. It can snoop into your house and scan your face for symptoms of dissent ‑ anything less than the compulsory look of “quiet optimism”. Not only that, it can make you doubt your own memory, question the very evidence of your senses, reject that most basic a priori: 2+2=4. And if it hasn’t got you, chances are it has your child, schooled to dob you in without a second thought. Nor will things improve. Big Brother and co are systematically rewriting the past, the better to tighten their grip on the present and thereby predetermine the ghastly future: “a boot stamping on a human face ‑ for ever”. Downbeat or not, Nineteen Eighty-Four has achieved a degree of influence few novels can match. Dorian Lynskey here reminds us how widely known it and its themes have become, and in just seventy years. Big Brother, Newspeak, doublethink, unperson ‑ all of these terms are familiar even to those who have never read the book. Lynskey is an insightful commentator who here provides a sharp and, at times, irreverent take on Orwell’s final novel ‑ what influenced it, what it in turn influenced. Everything, it would appear, from Dave Eggers’s The Circle to the Lego Movie, not to mention Privilege, a darkly disturbing 1960s film I’d forgotten. Best of all, though, is the fascinating overview he provides of a recent theory, courtesy of Margaret Atwood, that holds that Nineteen Eighty-four carries an unmistakeable message of hope, just so long as you know where to look for it. Nineteen Eighty-Four’s literary influences are well known—Jack London’s The Iron Heel, Huxley’s Brave New World, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution. Lynskey gives a thorough account of them all and their authors. How Brave New World began as a spoof on Wells’s Modern Utopia. Or how Zamyatin – “stubborn as a fact” ‑ fell foul of Stalin and ended…

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