Mr. Taylor, a novelist, critic and biographer...ably balances the cultural footprint of Nineteen Eighty-Four with the story of its writing ... Taylor here covers the highlights, giving both an overview of Orwell’s career and a survey of his greatest literary achievement ... Taylor perform[s] a service by keeping Orwell in our field of vision not merely as a shorthand or an adjective but as a thinker whose currency is principle rather than doctrine.
...an arresting new book ... [an] engaging account ... As we navigate our own often Orwellian reality of autocracy, political discontent and crafted truths, Taylor ponders what the great writer might have made of 'alternative facts' and those who embrace them. The answer, he suggests, is not a simple one.
He delves deeply and brightly into the making of the novel, its inspiration, how Orwell wrote it, and how it was received critically, socially, and politically then and afterward ... Taylor also deftly shows how 'many of its incidental fragments turn out to have been robbed wholesale from the life that ran along beside it.' He demonstrates how Orwell generated the narrative while also continuing to contribute to magazines, exploring the political and social landscape ... A lively, engaging, concise biography of a novel.
Most compelling is Taylor’s account of Orwell’s unusual (for him) struggle to complete the novel, while wracked by tuberculosis and holed up in a remote village in the Inner Hebrides. Taylor vividly evokes the image of a tubercular Orwell hunched in bed, laboriously typing out a fair copy of the manuscript for his publisher, while the Atlantic rages outside his window. Less thorough on the book’s post-publication life, Taylor does convey the trouble to which Orwell went, mostly fruitlessly, to prevent the book’s political misappropriation by both left and right. Unfortunately, 1984’s influence far exceeds the capacity this slender volume can capture, but Taylor has nevertheless crafted a gripping portrait of the creation of an essential novel.