1984 is like a walk in the park compared to the reality that awaits you in Orbury. This novel takes the idea of a surveillance state and turns it way up. Big Brother is not simply watching you – Big Brother is actually in your head, sees what you see.
On TV shows – and computer games – there’s a concept called »breaking the fourth wall«. This means that one of the actors addresses the audience directly, like saying: »I bet you didn’t expect that.« If used wisely, it’s a theatrical tool to increase the immersion, or to bring in some humour. (Just play the release of The Bard’s Tale where the narrator and the hero are constantly slagging it out to each other, drawing the player into their dispute.)
I mention this because right off the bat, Orbury breaks the fourth wall. There have been novels that tells their stories in a matter of a bar talk, where the narrator may be speaking to people he’s sharing a table with. Orbury instead uses the reader for it’s protagonist to have someone to talk to. You as the reader are the Raison d’être for this book to exist, someone to tell this story to. Quite literally, and an interesting way to open a story.
After that opening, it turns into a first person narrative, as you would expect. Well, a multiple first person narrative, but the chapter heads tell you who will be narrating this chapter. The timeline is another clue.
The narrative structure is actually one of the most intriguing I’ve read in a very long time. Our narrators are identical twins, but one tells his part of the story in a linear forward fashion, while his twin does a Memento style backwards version of the story, starting with his execution. Jepp, that’s a thing.
Okay, I’ve actually lied to you in the last paragraph. But I won’t tell you the exact nature of this particular lie, letting you discover that for yourself. Let’s just say that I was taken by one of the finest mid-book plot twists ever, and I had to close the book for a while to think these implications through.
I’ve mentioned the Bard’s Tale, where breaking the fourth wall is used as a kind of comic relief. That’s not the case with Orbury, and I haven’t found any comic reliefs. But they would have come in handy, because let’s confess straight up: This book is dark. That part about the execution was no joke.
Of course, a grim story like this, a real dystopian tale, always carries with it a piece of warning. The ever present, evil government that acts as an overwhelmingly oppressive and powerful villain in this novel does, of course, not exist in our life. (Unless you happen to live in North Korea, but if you do, how are your reading this blog?)
But for me, it is an allegory of Social Media. After all, many of us tell things about ourselves on Social Media that we wouldn’t confide to our neighbours. Not even under pressure, but on social media, we do so willingly and without hesitation.
And when I say dystopian, I really mean it. This world is so dark and hard on the people living in it. 1984 is a kindergarten compared to it – while in Orwell’s classic, the government regulates news and speech (the language or at least the lingo), in Orbury it regulates history. Or deletes it, to be honest. In 1984, history was always changed to match the current situation, but in Orbury there is no history. It doesn’t exist, and thinking it does makes you incorrect – and this, now, this is really deadly, being incorrect. There is just the present, and everything before was the exact way it is now. There is no evidence it ever was different. Any correct member of the collective knows that.
This is evil beyond evil. I really think that no horror book I’ve ever read could match up to this level of vileness. And besides 1984, there is also solvent green present as one of the inspirational sources behind this book. And maybe you can find Hunger Games in there as well, of course with a different prize than food for a district. This game here sets brother against brother – one will be elected to be the new dictator, successor to their father. The other one will be executed as an offender.
I’ve mentioned 1984 before, but this novel goes way beyond that. It’s as if Dr. Mengele had taken a glimpse into 1984 and decided that it was probably a good start, but lacking equal parts sadistic and evil, so he put in in there. The fact that our experiment subjects are twins only makes this reminiscence stronger.
Reading this book made me uneasy as hell, questioning myself, my perception of reality. Therefore, it’s not an easy read – but that’s no justification to give a rating of anything less than 5 stars. Quite the opposite, it’s testament to how well this is written. On a personal side, I think that the correctness of the collective could also be read as an analogy to today’s political correctness, and how anyone who fails to behave to this higher standard is ridiculed for. Substitute shitstorm for execution and you’ll get my meaning. Which also ties in with my feeling about the government being an allegory for social media. Like I’ve said before – that’s my highly subjective reading of this.
But this also means that Nora Wall did an outstanding job in creating this nightmare of an reality. Any book that is able to touch you and your brain like this deserves the highest praise available. So, 5 Stars and a trophy 🏆!