Nineteen Eighty-Four goes through the reader like an east wind, cracking the skin, opening the sores; hope has died in Mr Orwell’s wintry mind, and only pain is known. I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put down. The faults of Orwell as a writer – monotony, nagging, the lonely schoolboy shambling down the one dispiriting track – are transformed now he rises to a large subject.
The story is simple. In 1984 Winston Smith, a civil servant and Party member in the English Totalitarian State (now known as Airstrip One), conceives political doubts, drifts into tacit rebellion, is detected after a short and touching period of happiness with a girl member of the Party and is horribly “rehabilitated”. Henceforth he will be spiritually, emotionally, intellectually infantile, passive and obedient, as though he had undergone a spiritual leucotomy. He is “saved” for the life not worth living. In Nineteen Eighty-Four the punishment is lifeless life: “Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Go here to read the rest of an edited extract from the review which ran in the New Statesman dated 18 June 1949.