BookTubeAThon 2013 – 1984 and Delirium

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Book Reviews
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For my first pair of books I chose to read two dystopian novels, the classic 1984 by George Orwell and the modern YA book by Lauren Oliver Delirium.  1984 was a reread for me to complete the “reread a book” challenge of BookTubeAThon.  I have been hearing good things about Delirium so I thought now was a good time to add it to my TBR.

Scene Setting

I had forgotten just how effectively Orwell sets his scene in 1984.   From the moment the clock strikes 13 in the first paragraph to the final sentence (this is the only time I ever reread a book’s final words multiple times in the hope that they would change – they didn’t) 1984 is full of danger, menace and despair. This is only broken up by a few interludes of happiness.  

Delirium, on the other hand, is the opposite.  Much of the book feels like a light, easygoing teen romance with only a few episodes of real danger and tension.  In 1984 the threat of being captured by the government feels very real and in the protagonist’s eyes inevitable.  In Delirium, the protagonist forgets about her society for whole long stretches.

The Premise

For me the premise in 1984 of a totalitarian State controlling everything is far more terrifying than a “cure” for love, mainly because I see it as more possible.  In both 1984 and Delirium, the totalitarian governments view romantic or familial love as a threat to society.  Other than enforcing the “cure” and persecuting those who have refused it, the government of Delirium remains far more in the background. 

The Characters

Winston and Lena are both very interesting characters, but opposite in every way.  Winston is a middle aged man, who is resigned to the situation in which he finds himself – he refers to himself often as a “dead man.”  While he would like to fight against Big Brother, he feels powerless.  Lena is a young woman with all the passion and naiveté of her age.  She is only beginning to become aware that perhaps her society isn’t as perfect as it seems.  While both lose themselves in the present during their respective love affairs, Winston is far more aware that it cannot last.  

Love and sexuality

This is a theme in both novels, which is why I chose to read them together as a pair.  In both societies, love (both romantic love and familial love) are actively put down; in 1984 because it draws loyalty away from Big Brother and in Delirium because of the “side effects” and societal “chaos” it causes.

In 1984 though, love – while a crime – is less serious than “thoughtcrime” (active disloyalty to Big Brother).  Winston does not believe Big Brother can be defeated by any action of his, so his affair with Julia is as much an act of defiance as a desire for a human connection.  Interestingly though, despite this it’s his betrayal of Julia in Room 101 that causes his capitulation.  His relationship with Julia is contrasted with his Big Brother sanctioned marriage and its breakdown.  It broke down because his wife viewed sex as a duty to Big Brother in order to procreate new Party members.

Love in Delirium is the ultimate crime.  Lena however doesn’t view it as an act of resistance against the Government, rather she is simply following her own desires and feelings.  

Resistance

Thoughts of rising up against the State are mentioned in both 1984 and Delirium.  In 1984 it’s a major plot point with Winston at one point believing he’s made contact with them.  However he doesn’t seem to believe that they have any chance at all of being effective – he places his hopes in the proletariat.  Certainly he himself does not believe he can make a difference.

In Delirium references are made to a resistance group and to those living outside the system.  Lena herself doesn’t appear to wish to be involved with them at this point, although this is only the first in the trilogy. I imagine she may become more active in subsequent books.

In Summary

While both 1984 and Delirium share many themes, 1984 is a far more tightly written, well crafted novel.  Orwell keeps the tension far more adroitly than Oliver.  In all fairness Delirium is a fun read, and I suspect I would have appreciated it more if I had not read it in conjunction with a classic.  I will certainly read the followups Pandemonium and Requiem.

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