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Book of Lamentations

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Book of Lamentations – The New Inquiry

A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness

The best dystopian literature, or at least the most effective, manages to show us a hideous and contorted future while resisting the temptation to point fingers and invent villains. This is one of the major flaws in George Orwells’s 1984: When O’Brien laughingly expounds on his vision of “a boot stamping on a human face – forever” he starts to acquire the ludicrousness of a Bond villain; he may as well be a cartoon – one of the Krusty Kamp counsellors in The Simpsons, raising a glass “to Evil.” Orwell’s satire of Stalinism, or Margaret Atwood’s on the religious right in The Handmaid’s Tale tend to let our present world off the hook a little by comparison. More subtle works, like Huxley’s Brave New World, are far more effective. His Controller, when interrogated, doesn’t burst out in maniacal laughter and start twiddling his moustache. He explains, in quite reasonable terms, why the dystopia he lives in is the best way to ensure the happiness of all – and he means it. Everything’s broken, but it’s not anyone’s fault; it’s terrifying because it’s so familiar.

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