Victoria Hislop: Orwell is among the top 10 people I’d like to meet

Victoria Hislop describes George Orwell as a genius, recalls the horror of first reading about the Holocaust and explains why she prefers Brontë to Austen.

Victoria Hislop is a prize-winning author and journalist. Her first novel, The Island, sold over a million copies and her latest book, The Thread, is out now. Victoria lives in Kent with her husband, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, and their two children.

I Am David by Anne Holm

I vividly remember our primary-school teacher reading a chapter a day to us. She’d come out from behind her desk—an event in itself—and was as visibly moved by this powerful story as we were. The fact that it was set in a real historical context gave it an extraordinary power.

It was my first introduction to the horror of concentration camps, and we were all completely spellbound by David’s escape and journey across Europe. It has some of the best descriptive writing I’ve ever come across. I read it to my children when they were younger, and I know they will read it to theirs in the future. You never forget this book.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I studied this for O level and, although I was one of the good girls at school, there was a part of me that longed to be as wild and undisciplined as Brontë’s characters. Our other set text was Jane Austen’s Emma, which seemed so boring compared with this book’s drama and underlying eroticism.

Imagine living without rules and hanging out with a whole lot of other insane teenagers, as Cathy does, then being able to come back and haunt people! It made me realise how exciting the English language could be.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I didn’t enjoy Nineteen Eighty-Four in the conventional sense, because the story is so horrifying, but Orwell is close to genius.

How did he predict, in 1949, so much that’s part of our lives today? The language and concepts of Big Brother, thoughtcrime and Newspeak have become part of our contemporary vernacular, while the brain-washing effect that technology and television can have on us is completely relevant now. It seems we haven’t heeded many of the book’s warnings.

Orwell is among the top ten people I’d most like to meet—he was an astonishing writer.