Reviews

A feminist retelling of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

Sandra Newman’s version will be published in 2023.

When Donald Trump became U.S. President, sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel against totalitarianism, Nineteen Eighty-Four , and other cautionary tales soared. The more Mr. Trump uttered improbable and alternative facts, comparisons were drawn to Orwell’s depiction of the totalitarian state of Oceania ruled by Big Brother and its Thought Police, which banned all personal ideas with people living on the “assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised”. Now, as reported by The Guardian , the Orwell Estate has approved the publication of a feminist retelling of Nineteen Eighty-Four , told through the perspective of Julia, protagonist Winston Smith’s lover.

American writer Sandra Newman’s Julia, 1984: A Novel will be published by Granta in 2023. In the original, Smith works at The Ministry of Truth, rewriting the past as instructed by Big Brother, and he begins an affair with Julia of the Fiction Department. The first time they meet, Julia surprises him by telling him his name. When he wonders how she found out, she quips, “I expect I’m better at finding things out than you are, dear.” As Bill Hamilton, literary executor of the Orwell Estate, is quoted as saying, “Newman gets under the skin of Big Brother’s world in a completely convincing way which is both true to the original but also gives a dramatically different narrative to stand alongside the original. The millions of readers who have been brought up with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will find this a provocative and satisfying companion.”

In the original, Julia is delighted when Winston tells her he thought she was part of the Thought Police. She is good at disguises, she tells him, “I always look cheerful and I never shirk anything. Always yell with the crowd, that’s what I say. It’s the only way to be safe.” While the original begins with a sentence of foreboding: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” Ms. Newman starts her book thus. “It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all oldthink way. Comrade Smith was his right name, though ‘Comrade’ never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone ‘Comrade’, far better not to speak to them at all.”

‘Ideal citizen’

“She has known no other world and, until she meets Winston, never imagined one. She’s opportunistic, believing in nothing and caring not at all about politics. She routinely breaks the rules but also collaborates with the regime whenever necessary. She’s an ideal citizen of Oceania. But when one day, finding herself walking toward Winston Smith in a long corridor, she impulsively hands him a note – a potentially suicidal gesture – she comes to realise that she’s losing her grip and can no longer safely navigate her world,” Granta told The Guardian . Ms. Newman has written four novels and had been shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award for The Only Good Thing One Has Ever Done .

Orwell’s famous novel has been adapted many times both in print and film; as a recent fictional review of Shakespeare’s works, including Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed , a retelling of The Tempest , and Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth .


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Printable version | May 8, 2022 12:05:41 am | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/a-feminist-retelling-of-nineteen-eighty-four/article37935735.ece