Thursday 19 October 2023

Julia by Sandra Newman

 "London, chief city of Airstrip One, the third most populous province of Oceania. It's 1984 and Julia Worthing works as a mechanic fixing the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. Under the ideology of IngSoc and the rule of the Party and its leader Big Brother, Julia is a model citizen - cheerfully cynical, believing in nothing and caring not at all about politics. She knows how to survive in a world of constant surveillance, Thought Police, Newspeak, Doublethink, child spies and the black markets of the prole neighbourhoods. She's very good at staying alive."

To be honest, when I first heard about 'Julia' I wondered if we really needed a re-telling of "!984" -  it's a dystopian classic after all - but I was intrigued enough to read it, and I'm glad I did.The story is told this time from the point of view of Winston Smith's lover Julia, and their relationship given a new twist. 

While outwardly following the rules laid down by Big Brother and the Party, following the dull, regimented life expected of lower Party members, Julia has found ways to sidestep the regulations and live a slightly fuller life - or so she thinks. Big Brother has eyes everywhere, Julia's activities have been noted, and she finds herself drawn into a plot against Smith. 

Newman has managed to catch Orwell's writing style, cleverly twining a new story around the original, and incorporating much of his dialogue. If anything the dreariness of existence under Big Brother's regime seems more overwhelming - perhaps because Julia desires more from life than Winston does. Unqualified support of the Party is necessary, sex and marriage are frowned on, and entertainment consists mainly of meetings given over to Party propaganda and the occasional game of table tennis. Being selected as part of a conspiracy plays into Julia's craving for excitement, but she isn't as essential as she feels; in fact she's merely being manipulated along with everyone else.

To say I 'enjoyed' this is maybe not the accurate word - hard hitting and brutal, it's a story about living without hope and with no real prospect of any in the future - but it's a powerful read. A word of warning - there are disturbing torture scenes, and explicit sex scenes.

Out of curiosity, I decided to reread "1984" immediately afterward, and actually found "Julia" the better of the two. Maybe it speaks more directly to me as a woman, but it benefits, I feel, from losing the long chapters of Goldstein's subversive text and the torture scenes which go on for far too long. In Julia they're short and sharp, but lose none of their terror. 

Also, when your lover has betrayed you rather than face a couple of rats, what do you do? Julia's way is gruesome, if not sickening, but definitely effective. Proving once again that the female of her species is more deadly than the male

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