Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Book Review: Do it to Julia. Right now.

I've read Orwell's 1984 at least a half-dozen times, from the first time in high school up to the present. (And no, the first time was not assigned reading. I was a precocious 9th grader who wanted to see what all the hoopla regarding the rapidly-approaching titular year was about*.) 

With each reading, I've become increasingly curious about the character of Julia. She seemed so much more streetwise and cynical than the protagonist and, while Winston viewed her as shallow and superficial, Orwell wrote him as such a misogynist that he's obviously an unreliable narrator. I kinda wanted to see the terrain of London, Airstrip One, and the Outer Party as viewed by Julia.

Apparently I was not alone in this, because Sandra Newman wrote the book I've been waiting for, and it was definitely worth the read.

Here's how reading it went:
Me, a fifth of the way into Julia:
Okay, yeah, dammit. This is good. This is the POV of Julia I was imagining when I read 1984. Good stuff. Well written.

Me, a third of the way into Julia:
OH HOLY F$CK I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING…but…yeah, that seems right. I think what’s going to happen now is… no, wait. Don’t guess. Just read.
It definitely stays true to the original and avoids subverting tropes just to be precious. There's a bit more action and intrigue, but that's to be expected, since Julia was a much more active character than the introspective and slightly timid Winston. I mean, in the original book he was skittish about sneaking into prole neighborhoods, but she seemed to have good methods of dodging snoops and telescreens, as well as access to black market goods that Winston did not, and now we find out why.

My major beef is that it's not nearly as tightly-written as the original, but in Newman's defense, she's telling a more sprawling story that contains the original inside it, and there's no shame in not being as gifted a prose stylist as George frickin' Orwell. We still read his stuff for a reason, after all.

Highly recommend.

*I was such a weirdo that my sophomore year in high school I had a picture postcard of the well-known BBC portrait of Orwell hanging in my locker, in the corner of which I'd scrawled "All the best in the new year! Love, Eric." Only one or two of my classmates who saw it even knew who it was.