The book that changed my life is 1984, the dystopian novel by George Orwell first published in 1949. I guess a lot of people would choose this because of its far-reaching effects. I first came across the novel as an eighteen-year-old studying for an O-Level in English Literature at night school after my poor CSE grades. The book taught me about world political systems from the far right to the far left and the blurring that often exists in between. After reading it I began think about Communism and Marxism by looking at the governing bodies in Russia and China. I think of myself as a Socialist rather than a capitalist and the book offered up a critique of both.
I am fascinated by the lovers in the novel, Winston Smith and Julia, who publicly follow the ‘party’ line but break the rules until one is forced to betray the other. Mr Charrington the bookseller intrigues me, the way he entraps potential party dissenters into buying prohibited materials. The lines ‘I sold you and you sold me’ stand out clearly and bring to mind that in societies like this you can’t afford to trust anyone. I studied the novel closely at the time, even reading the appendix first which detailed the origins of the party, and its terminology, such as ‘double speak,’ which dictated that citizens should take heed of what language they use, as well as being aware of the ‘thought police’ who seek to suppress the idea of free thinking. Orwell believed that the middle classes often bring about changes in society but in 1984 he says, ‘if there is hope, it’s in the proles.’
I haven’t picked up the novel since the 1980s, but I am constantly aware of its politics especially with the increase of worldwide technology, the uses of surveillance equipment and the breakdown in civil liberties.
Brian Wharton is a former actor, who writes drama and short stories. He also writes film and theatre criticism.