The story of 1984 is familiar, always told from the perspective of Winston Smith. It shows life in a dystopian vision with a brutal totalitarian government.
Julia by Sandra Newman (Amazon Link) asks the question of what it is to be a woman in the same story.
Told with the voice of Winston's lover, we get fresh insight into life in Oceania for a woman. From life in Hostel 21 to work in the Ministry of Truth, the book brutally exposes another side to life in 1984.
In the book we're told how Julia participates in the betrayal of both Winston, and other members of the party. We see a different side to the menacing O'Brien, and how the truth can be retold. We finally meet Big Brother, and see Julias final outcome.
I enjoyed this book immensely, seeing a favourite novel retold through fresh eyes. There is some horror, particularly in the alternative view of Room 101. The punishment of the Ministry of Love is both cruel, and unrelenting. Julias time in captivity seems especially brutal, exposing a disregard for women.
This is an ambitious rework of a classic novel, and it feels successful. Julia's story is important, and Orwell didn't spend much time on her character. Newman brings a back story to life, and explains the role of women in Oceania. Julias childhood is a combination of freedom and horror and helps explain her survival skills.
In her adult life, we see her clinging on to her inner self, despite continued abuse. I liked her attempts at self-determination, bringing some power to a passive character from the original novel.
My only gripe was that unlike Orwell, Newman does allow a crack of light into the story. The alternative ending that Julia has contrasts with the 1984 I recall. I preferred Orwell's ending as a totalitarian view of a totalitarian world, with no hope.
I enjoyed this novel, which bought a new spin on a familiar story. The power of the writing, and the alternative view, outweighed any gripes I had.