Given the political climate and the fact it seems to be referenced ad nauseam in the last few years, there seems no better time to write a book about the legacy of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Music journalist and author Dorian Lynskey has done precisely that with his new book Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 which he is here to talk about alongside chair Stuart Kelly.
Curiously, we learn that the timing of events and Lynskey’s initial inspiration to write the book intertwined serendipitously. As Lynskey explains, he first wanted to write the book due to an interest in dystopian literature and how he felt all roads led to the novel. It also just so happens this was in 2016, albeit in a pre-Trump, pre-Fake News 2016.
On the back of this Lynskey interestingly talks about not only how the book relates to now but the different readings of it over the decades. And how groups as disparate as the CIA and the Black Panthers used the text for their own ends. He even tells a story of a bold Soviet propaganda attempt in the year 1984 promoting it as an Anti-American novel despite the fact it had previously been on the banned books list in the USSR.
Equally as fascinating is finding out that although George Orwell died a mere 227 days after the novel’s publication he lived to see some of these warring interpretations. After the initial release, the Conservative press on both sides of the pond believed it to be an attack on the post-war Labour Government, something Orwell denounced in a couple of press releases.
The event doesn’t entirely focus on the cultural repercussions of the book though. Lynskey and Kelly also discuss a bit about Orwell himself, critique the characters, and talk about the adaptions of the novel. Plus, when the event opens up for questions there more on the novel’s place in dystopian fiction than political readings. Including, inevitably, a couple concerning Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the book Nineteen Eighty-Four is most frequently compared too.
Before wrapping up the event, Kelly asks one last question, “What would Orwell have done next?” To which Lynskey believes he would have written something more personal as he had said all he wanted to say politically with the novel. Unfortunately, we shall never know, but it is an interesting thought to chew on after an engrossing event.