Across Continents

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A darned good read

March 6th, 2012

There’s been quite a bit of talk of writing a book about my venture. But not by me I might add. You’ll find me quite reticent on the matter. Reluctant to commit. Simply because it’d be a sizeable undertaking and, to succeed, it’d have to offer something different. That’s not a no. More a qualified maybe. Still, has got the grey matter mulling over what makes a good book. A really good one.

I’d posed this question on Facebook. Asking what makes you not want to put it down, to ignore those around you? Is it humour, pathos, perhaps characters you identify, even empathise, with? Intriguing responses. Pace, clarity, a bit of self analysis, humour and opening the lid a little wrote one. Echoed by another who suggested honesty, and feeling like you’re really engaging with the real personality of the author. Choose a decent title, not an after-thought. Vary the length of your sentences. Ok.

Is there a method here? Not so much a neat formulaic approach, with the precision, the elegance, of a mathematician’s solution. But a pattern of success at least? Perhaps. Consider a couple of well-regarded novels from the Twentieth Century. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Published almost two decades apart, either side of World War Two. Both dealing with dark visions of the future. Individual struggle against the State.

One conveys the sense of a chilling, soulless world in just the first few lines:

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him."

The nondescript surname for the main character suggesting a lack of individuality. Together with the choice of name for his apartment block – "Victory Mansions" – the first hints of an oppressive State apparatus. A little later the author describing another building, the Ministry of Truth, as:

"…an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air…".

And there’s the three Party Slogans to be recanted without scrutiny:

"WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH."

Jump beyond 1984 to a more futuristic world and you’ll find Huxley echoes similar sentiments. But in a somewhat more concise form.

"A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY."

A pattern of sorts. Think I prefer Orwell’s efforts. His writing drawing you much more quickly into the lead character. And a sense that the author was troubled by dark clouds, a foreboding for what lay ahead. Of Totalitarism. Oppression. Probably time for me to board another bus.

[The author, as much to his own surprise as everyone else’s, actually did better in O-level English Literature than English Language…]

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