Novels in the Time of Dystopia
There are some news stories circulating that say Orwell’s 1984 is trending on Amazon and that publishers are having to print more books to keep up with demand (one story is here). Whilst 1984 is one of my favourite books, I view it as a companion to Huxley’s Brave New World, kind of like two ends of a spectrum. I started reading Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman which contrasts the two, but alas it fell victim to my unfocused reading habits in 2016 and I have yet to pick it up again.
The Guardian has published a story today on dystopian novels that compare more accurately to the Trump era instead of 1984. If you don’t want to read the article, in short the suggestions are:
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (also a film staring Natasha Richardson, directed by Volker Schlondorff)
- The aforementioned Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – my absolute favourite of this genre, will never see any of the films its been made into as I just don’t think I could bear it
- Virtual Light by William Gibson – not sure how I feel about Gibson; recently read The Peripheral (review on goodreads here)
- The Private Eye by Vaughn and Martin – unfamiliar with this, will have to look into it
- Children of Men by PD James – I have not read the novel but loved the film starring Clive Owen, directed by Alfonse Cuaron
Dystopia is an unusual genre, and while it can be depressing it always felt like it was a fiction that could never happen. That feeling seems to be changing from ‘what if’ to ‘what now?’ In addition to The Guardian’s choices, I would include a few additional books that conform to the dystopia, militarism and xenophobia genres:
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – opinions are (search google) that this is the template for 1984
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – don’t be fooled, even though it’s a Dave Eggers book it is a good one
- Scoop by Evelyn Waugh – a satire describing media and propaganda at its most banally stupid
- Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart – consumerism, nationalism and terror; the Bipartisan Party is horrifyingly accurate
- The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu – Israeli girls doing their military service, confronting their feelings about their ‘enemies’ the Palestinians
- Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coatzee – asks should we be benevolent for the good of others or is our benevolence still self interest?
- Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – a particularly poorly organized leftist movement draws Orwell to the Spanish Civil War, and for his trouble Orwell gets shot in the neck (spoiler: he survives!)
I can’t say that I’ll be reading much dystopia in the near future as it’s too close to current events. Is that a mistake given that we must fight against totalitarianism in all its forms? Should I keep close to it so I can fight against it? I’ll keep this in mind as 2017 marches on and see if I should change my thinking.