The Big Read

No. 46 – Animal Farm, George Orwell Read 2/7/15

Affiliate Link:Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics)

Now if you have been with me here at Bernie and Books for a while, first of all thanks for sticking around, but also I am sure you will know my feelings about the only other work by George Orwell I have read Nineteen Eighty-Four. I shall say no more but read the review if you like. I approached Animal Farm with a little trepidation but I tried to keep an open mind.

Animal Farm is the story of Manor Farm where the animals over throw and drive out their farmer Jones. At first the animals form and live in a peaceful republic but the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon start to use their superior intelligence for their own gains. Now it was quite obvious from the first page that this book is a political satire and a criticism of communism, I had expected nothing less from Orwell, but it says an awful lot about human nature. “Human nature? But it’s about animals!” I hear you cry and that is true but Orwell uses the different animals to show the different levels of society. It is very cleverly done, the horses working tirelessly without a thought for themselves, the sheep blindly following whatever they are told, the ducks and chickens doing their small part and my favourite of all the cat, who slyly manages to avoid doing any work are all people I have seen in social structures around the world.

With the pigs Orwell shows brilliantly how power can be abused and manipulated. How those with power can very subtly oppress and make you believe you are free at the same time. This book was written in 1943-44 and it is almost like a dummies guide to understanding what was happening in dictatorships across the world at that time. It said on the cover of my edition it was a obvious criticism of Stalin but it can also be read as a criticism of Hitler, Mussolini and any other dictator you can think of. Most tellingly it is still relevant today. From North Korea to Syria and Iraq, even in Britain I see the horses and I see the pigs. This book has made me ask are we really equal?

It is an excellent political statement. I just can’t stand the narrative. It is all statement no story. At times I felt like I was reading a non-fiction book rather than a novella. Perhaps this is was original when Orwell was writing. Perhaps people weren’t used to analysing a text for its political subtleties so it had to be brutally honest. I don’t know. I just like to be credited with a bit more intelligence as a reader. I have thought long and hard about this because I didn’t want my previous experience with Orwell to influence me and I see much more than I did with Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘the point’ of the book but I still have issues with the method.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: anyone trying to understand politics.

The Big Read

Books from School – No.8 Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell

Affiliate Link: 1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin Modern Classics)

And now we have reached it. The only book I hate more than Frankenstein. I just heard the collective intake of breath from around the world because the truth is I have never hated a book more than Nineteen Eight Four. 

Let me explain for I know this is an incredibly controversial opinion. I was forced to read Nineteen Eight Four at the age of 12 in school. Now my reading ability was such that I could mechanically process the progression of the words but what on earth did my teacher expect me to take from such an important political book at such a young age? How was I supposed to empathises with a middle aged man with varicose veins? Forced is the only word I can use to describe my experience reading this book. It got to the point where I literally threw it across the room in frustration and my mum sat me down and read it aloud to me because I couldn’t bear it any more. I have never cared less about a character.

*Enormous spoiler coming up. HUGE SPOILER*

So I trudge my way through this book, barely tolerating Winston, and finally he is taken by the thought police. For the first time I am mildly curious about what is going to happen. Will he escape? Will there be a revolution? Will he find out the truth?

GGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. No no of course not. It turns out after all this time, after all the stupid little acts of rebellion, after having to put up with this git for several weeks of my life, HE LOVES BIG BROTHER. WHAT WAS THE F***ING POINT??? WHY DID I WASTE MY LIFE READING THIS SH*TTY BOOK FOR IT ALL TO BE FOR NOTHING??? I can’t tell you how angry I was. “Why bother?” I thought “What was the point in trying to resist when it was futile all along?”.

And that is where I totally missed the point because I was too young to read this book. And now with hindsight I am angry that this classic of English literature has been ruined for me, for I can only think of it with frustration. Had I read it when I could understand that literature is not just about the story you tell but about the statement you make, my opinion would be completely different and I am sure I would be singing its praises here rather than explaining myself. But as it stands I know I will never be able to enjoy Nineteen Eight Four, never be able to appreciate the courage it took to write because I can never forgot the way it made me feel the first time I read it.