Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of those timeless novels and a testament to the power of language.
Such is its influence, adaptations have spanned film, television, radio, the theatre, and even ballet! Not to mention the numerous pop culture nods to the novel.
Penguin’s latest edition is an audiobook, narrated by the incredibly charismatic Peter Capaldi – the second ‘doctor’ of Dr Who fame to be involved in a production, following Christopher Ecclestone’s 2013 dramatisation.
Capaldi’s a perfect fit for the role. His austere narration captures the solemnity of Orwell’s dystopian classic. It’s bleak, atmospheric, and terrifying – mirroring the novel itself.
What is Nineteen Eighty-Four all about?
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel about life under a totalitarian dictatorship.
Set in dystopian London, Oceania – one of three global blocs – all citizens live under 24hr surveillance.
The Party is headed by the emblematic image of Big Brother; a mustachioed, brutish man whom all of Oceania worships.
Indoctrinated children report their parents to the thought police, the sex instinct is virtually abolished, and any reverence must be reserved exclusively for Big Brother.
Anyone deviating from the Party’s narrative is vaporised for committing thought crime.
Winston Smith, our main character, works in the corrections department of the Party, ensuring that all information is retrospectively amended to preserve the party’s image of infallibility.
Nineteen Eighty-Four chronicles Winston’s awakening from the brainwashing of ‘double-think’, and his subsequent rebellion against the Party.
How is the Nineteen Eighty-Four audiobook experience?
The Nineteen Eighty-Four audiobook is a phenomenal way to experience the story.
At 12hrs and 22mins, it’s fully unabridged and the sound quality is excellent. It’s a genuine alternative to the book.
As audiobook listeners know too well, the choice of narrator is key. A poor narration can quickly derail an audiobook, whereas a stronger voice can elevate the audiobook experience to another level.
Fortunately, Capaldi is one of the latter. His performance is fantastic!
He’s an expressive actor, from the hilariously foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker of The Thick of It to his well-respected role as Dr Who’s Twelfth Doctor.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Capaldi steers clear of his loud, eccentric performances, instead adopting a more sombre (but equally charismatic) tone.
Oceania is a nihilistic, hopeless world and the narration captures this perfectly.
How does the audiobook compare to the paperback?
The only thing you miss out on from an audiobook, no matter the quality of the production, is attention to language.
Orwell is very deliberate with the language he uses in all of his writing. This is important because one of the key themes of the novel concerns how the destruction of language narrows the range of human thought.
Simply by virtue of it being an audiobook, you miss out on seeing the language on the page. If this is your first time experiencing Orwell, it would be a shame to not experience the ‘Newspeak’ of Nineteen Eighty-Four in print.
However, this does not detract from an impeccable production that’s well worth your time.
Over 70 years since Nineteen Eighty-Four’s publication (1948), it remains essential reading.
This is partly down to Orwell’s evocative depiction of a late-stage totalitarian state in practice – something those of us privileged enough to be born into democracies struggle to comprehend. He makes real the unfathomable, unsettling his readers.
On the other hand, encroachment on civil liberties and free speech dominate contemporary public discourse. This is why Nineteen Eighty-Four continues to resonate, generation after generation.
The novel translates to audiobook almost flawlessly, thanks to the high quality audio you expect from Penguin Random House UK Audio, not to mention Peter Capaldi’s impeccable performance.
If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this is the novel for you.
And yet, this is to be somewhat reductive – Nineteen Eighty-Four audiobook (or paperback) is essential reading for anyone who values democracy and free expression.