Some days (or, these days, most of the time) it can feel like our world is without hope. Rampant governmental corruption, tyrannical leaders, the ever-encroaching threat of climate change and that unshakeable feeling that smartphones today are getting a bit too smart… it’s a tough time for us all. When drugs are illegal, alcohol’s a slippery slope and yoga is just a touch too wishy-washy, how is one meant to escape the despairing, flaming car-wreck our society resembles more and more each day? Reading is good, but reading dystopian fiction can be like talking to that friend whose life could be the fourteenth installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events: it just makes you feel better about your own shitty situation. So, with that, this week’s Arts and Entertainments section is dedicated to three great dystopian novels to help you sit back, relax, and remember that even with the state of the world today, things could be worse.
- 1984, George Orwell.
No dystopian fiction countdown is complete without an Orwell novel, and since this classic has skyrocketed back to the top of the bestseller list with a 10,000% increase in sales since President Trump’s inauguration, there’s never been a better time to read the scarily-prescient 1984. This novel tells the story of Winston Smith, a citizen of Oceania, a nation where BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, history and language are systematically altered to eradicate any possibility of dissidence, and opponents to Oceania’s ruling Party – a totalitarian, oppressive regime – are regularly vaporised. Orwell wrote the novel post-WW2 to serve as a warning of the dangers that can arise when a population becomes lazy and apathetic to critical thinking and begins to blindly follow an authoritarian leadership – a lesson that seems as relevant today as it ever was. If you’re looking for a novel to not only engage you but also fill you with deep paranoia every time you look at your television screen, this is a fantastic choice (but beware, you might find the world of Oceania, with its concepts of Doublethink and Newspeak, eerily familiar… alternative facts, anyone?)
- Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill.
The lesser-known novel of the Asking For It author, Only Ever Yours follows the novel’s protagonist, Freida, through her final year at a terrifying all-girls boarding school that makes the Hailsham School of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go look like Glenstal Abbey. From birth, Freida and her classmates, all of whom are genetically modelled after and named for supermodels, are groomed to become perfectly submissive servants for the men of the world. The girls are channelled into just three vocations: Companion, a completely subservient wife; Concubine, a role where your life is dedicated solely to sexually servicing men; and Chastity, a nun-esque role in which you groom the next generation of girls. The girls are forbidden from learning to read, and are taught to be obsessively critical of their own and fellow girls’ appearances and behaviour, each day receiving rankings from their male suitors based on their photos. An unapologetically harrowing book, Only Ever Yours will leave you feeling shaken to the core for days afterwards as it examines the bare face of the patriarchy and the insidious nature of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Think The Handmaid’s Tale for Generation Selfie.
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
Saving the most depressing for last, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is recommended for only the most veritable masochists. The Road follows an unnamed father and son on their journey to the south coast of what might once have been the U.S.A as they attempt to survive a ‘nuclear winter’. Food, water and shelter are dangerously scarce and the world is plagued by the novel’s bad guys- a group of ‘roadagents’ that regularly rape, murder and eat the people they find on the road. When reading The Road, we enter the bleakest of realities, where McCarthy uses sparse language to reflect the desolate landscape and hopelessness of the new world. There are brief moments of reprieve, during moments of bonding between the man and the boy and times of remembering the old world, and throughout the novel McCarthy examines what remains when we are left with nothing, what keeps us going in a world without hope. In truth, I read this book in two parts, after once putting it down because it was so terribly, terribly bleak. Saying that, however, The Road is a fantastic read, with genuine, moving characters and a terrifyingly well-developed setting. And if the cannibalism and nuclear winter doesn’t make you feel better about that state of our reality, then erm, go pet some puppies outside the library. That’ll probably help.