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JULIA by Sandra Newman Kirkus Star


by Sandra Newman

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2023
ISBN: 9780063265332
Publisher: Mariner Books

In a retelling of 1984, Winston Smith's lover takes center stage.

As the author of two previous dystopian novels (The Heavens, 2019; The Men, 2022) and a humorous guide to classic literature (The Western Lit Survival Kit, 2012), Newman seems uniquely qualified to update Orwell’s anti-fascist cri du cœur. If you haven’t recently read 1984, it's worth perusing a plot summary to appreciate her achievement, placing Julia Worthing at the center of the action and moving Smith to a supporting role. All the familiar lineaments are here—Airstrip One, Oceania, Big Brother, Newspeak, the Ministries of Truth and Love, the dreaded Room 101, the rats (oy, the rats), as well as every character, many of them revised in clever ways. Though Newman sticks with the worldbuilding Orwell planned in 1949, not adding post-'84 developments like smartphones, home assistants, or the internet (though these actually do seem to play the surveillance role that Orwell assigned to the telescreens), she embroiders the edges of the original WWII-flavored vision with myriad amusing flourishes (and if you remember anything about 1984, you remember that amusing is not one of the adjectives that comes to mind). For example, though Julia is still a mechanic, working on the machines of Fiction, her first job at the Ministry of Truth was producing porno novels for proles, e.g., Inner Party Sinners: ‘My Telescreen is Broken, Comrade!’ She meets “a very willing but ignorant girl with the preposterous name of Typity. It was one of the new ultra-Party names; its letters stood for ‘Three-Year Plan In Two Years.’ ” Orwell described Julia as “a rebel from the waist down” and Newman runs with that, making Winston Smith one of many lovers and recasting his noble anti-state obsessions through Julia’s much more pragmatic eyes. “Most folk muddled along, but Old Misery Smith couldn’t even say ‘ungood’ without looking as if it scalded his mouth.” Book clubs could have great fun reading the two together.

Adding a major plot twist, a nice shot of (somewhat cynical) hope, and more graphic sex should win over even purists.