Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Classics Club: 1984

(about the classics club)

1984 is one of those classics about which references are always being made, and it seems like everyone has a general idea of the plot, whether or not they've read it.

I knew it was one that I needed to read, but had always put it off, thinking it would be too depressing.  I am so glad I finally read it and recommend it wholeheartedly.  If you've not read it, make this the next book you do read!

While Orwell's dystopia is a terrible place, the book was not so much distressing as thought-provoking.  Like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, I also found it disturbingly prophetic.  NewSpeak made me think of the horrible text message shorthand, and the Ministry of Peace was frighteningly similar to the way current governments present the need for war.  As for the Two Minutes Hate. . . How often have we seen a more subtle version of this in the recent past?!

I thought a great deal about how easily people can be "brain-washed" into living in horrid situations or doing vile acts by the government or other powerful institutions--good people, too, with honest intentions who think they are doing the right thing.

I thought about the fact that Orwell wrote this not long after the ending of World War II, and how Hitler's Germany must have been foremost in his mind.

I also thought about the control of history; the victors always write (and sometimes rewrite) history.  This is nothing new, and continues to this day.

 I felt frightened at times, by how similar some of the situations were to today's society.

I was enthralled by Orwell's prose; I had expected it to be dusty, dry, and yet it was alive and relevant.

I felt so much sadness for Winston; he was so real to me that I was emotionally invested in his journey.

I did feel confused by the Party requirements, and struggled to comprehend it fully.  I felt that it would have been better if Orwell had given that explanation early in the book, and more completely.  However, who am I to judge?!  I assume he had an excellent reason for waiting as long as he did, and my lack of understanding  was the fault of the reader, not the writer.

"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in."

"Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull."

"If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?"

"The object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war."

"A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This—although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense—is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: War is Peace."

"All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers."

"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Night Guest

The Night Guest
Fiona McFarlane

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (October 1, 2013)
  • 3/5 stars

I received the advanced copy of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in return for my honest review.

This begins as a gentle, charming novel about a 70-something lady dealing with aging, memory and love--as well as what she thinks is a tiger roaming her home at night. It then becomes a psychological thriller about trust, deception and abuse.

McFarlane writes well; her character are fully fleshed out and her descriptions bring the setting to life. With one notable exception, the situations are completely believable, and could easily happen. Even the magical realism of the tiger incidents are well done.

I'm not adverse to reading uncomfortable novels; in fact, Lolita is one of my favorites, due to Nabokov's exquisite skill. However, I found The Night Guest so disturbing that McFarlane's prose could not make this a "good read" for me.

One a more personal note:

I can not stress how disturbing this novel is; it made my stomach hurt and I had to skim several chapters as the end neared.  

At the risk of spoiling it for a potential reader, I have to say that it focuses around the abuse of an elderly woman by a trusted caregiver.  It is not at all what I expected from reading the blurb. McFarlane just isn't a good enough writer to take a topic like that and make it readable for me.  I've tried to understand why I can find Lolita an amazing novel, and yet be so squeamish about this one.  As my husband pointed out, it could be because that Nabakov is not graphic and the psychological abuse in The Night Guest was explicit.  All I know is that when I pulled off the pretty paper of McFarlane's writing, all that was left was gut-wrenching abuse.  When I pull off the pretty paper of Nabokov's writing, I see so much more.

I did give it three stars, though, because McFarlane does write well. It does have 38% of the reviews as five stars, so maybe I just wasn't a good fit for it.