As with most readers, my intro to George Orwell came by way of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel remains a dystopian masterpiece by which all others are measured. It birthed an entire genre and coined the “Orwellian” adjective, used to describe ideas that are uniquely corrosive to society. Its influence can be seen in countless titles, everything from The Handmaid’s Tale to The Hunger Games.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a haunting tale of totalitarian overreach. It’s very hard to read, but not because of challenging prose. Rather, it carries an uncomfortable realness and familiarity. The ongoing ails of society are trapped within its pages. The lessons are disturbing, necessary, and leave you with a looming sense of dread that is impossible to shake.
Thus, a general rule for reading more Orwell is “Did you like Nineteen Eighty-Four?”
In answering the question for myself, the term “like” might be a tad anemic. Orwell painted with words and few can match his prose, so “appreciate” sounds better since it’s damn near impossible to “enjoy” Nineteen Eighty-Four. But yes, once the mind-melting horror had faded from my conscience, I was ready to explore the next Orwellian nightmare.
For most, that takes the form of Animal Farm.
This is a short novella written as a satirical fable, the premise of which is deceptively simple. The animals of a poorly run farm decide to rebel. They drive out the human owner and take over operations, with the goal of creating an animal utopia. Sounds cute, right? But then you learn that Orwell mirrored the story on the events that sparked the Russian Revolution and rise of Stalin. It goes about as well as you’d think.
From an educational standpoint, Animal Farm does something truly remarkable. It teaches us about the perils of dictatorships in a short parable about rebellious livestock. We learn, in no uncertain terms, just how easy it is to manipulate good intent. In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly.” Orwell knew how to twist a stomach, and this frightening novella is another shining example.
So, did I “like” Animal Farm? Not particularly. But that’s only because it was a brilliant, heedful, and harrowing read that stabbed my brain.
Zeedub Reviews: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Zeedub Reviews: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir