As part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), there was a series of events celebrating 1984 – a book club and a lecture hosted by local poet Dr Gwee Li Sui and a play produced by UK theatrical innovators Headlong along with Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre.
I’ve never read 1984, despite being recommended by Aaron, my youngest son when he read it while in secondary school. I dislike dystopia novels. But I am now trying to read widely so as to improve my writing and the book club provides an excellent platform to discuss the book. (I love book clubs.)
This blog is not meant to be a review of the book. I get the idea there is some insinuation in relation to Singapore, with the Big Brother is watching you (through a telescreen) and the authoritative regime portrayed in the story, which I felt was ridiculous. I thought the book reminded me more of North Korea, based on the few books on North Korea which I have read. In the book club discussion, Dr Gwee asked a few interesting questions about the role of government and media, and how much power the media as an instrument to shape society by shaping people’s mind and people’s reality. Dr Gwee also pointed out that while the people in the book live in fear of constantly being watched, we are ironically now happily letting people watch us through social media, as well as approving surveillance cameras, in the threat of security and terrorism.
Following the book reading and discussion, I took Aaron to the play, which was not a direct adaptation as I had imagined, so I had some confusion with the repetitive scenes (relating to doublethink). Jarring stoke lightings and loud exploding sounds also made the experience of watching the play quite different from the hush-hush secretive climate I associate with the story. Julia was also much prettier in the play, and was dressed in a crisp white shirt and black skirt with a ponytail, like how a young secretary-mistress to the boss would wear, instead of the party’s overalls with all trace of femininity erased, as depicted in the book.
I am glad at last I got to read the book. I won’t be so ignorant though when the book is discussed, although the book does say, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.