Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Coming Up for Air by George Orwell
Most people who read George Orwell’s most famous novels Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm will not then normally venture into his other lesser known novels. While Coming Up for Air does not have the dystopian impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four it is still a novel that works extremely well and it’s a shame that it is often overlooked.
The plot is very simple; George Bowling is a fat, forty five year old man who looks around at his life and wonders just how did he get here? After winning some money which he conceals from his wife, Bowling decides to use it to take a trip down memory lane and revisit his old childhood town.
"It must have been in 1930 that I got fat. It happened so suddenly that it was as if a cannon ball had hit me and got stuck inside. You know how it is. One night you go to bed, still feeling more or less young, with an eye for the girls and so forth, and next morning you wake up in the full consciousness that you're just a poor old fatty with nothing ahead of you this side the grave except sweating your guts out to buy boots for the kids."
The narrative mostly contains Bowling's own observations on his boyhood and British life during the 1930s as he tries to cope with the impeding threat of the Second World War and the changing world he finds himself in. The narrator himself stops the novel slipping into a rose-tinted haze by not being altogether likeable and yet despite this he is very ordinary, if doomed and beaten.
This might all sound thoroughly depressing but it contains some wonderful humour (very cynical humour) as Bowling's gives his observations in his wry way.
“When a woman's bumped off, her husband is always the first suspect--which
gives you a little side-glimpse of what people really think about marriage."
His childhood is looked back on with nostalgia which only causes disappointment when he does finally make his way back to his home town. This novel was published in 1939 but how many of us now can go back to a childhood town and think that everything seems so much smaller and see that the small business where you brought your sweets from has been taken over by a large chain-store? Everything changes including towns and cities and Bowling is uneasy and scared about it, by going back to his youth he believes he can once again be free to breathe.
Coming Up for Air is a real treat and even if you haven’t given Orwell a try before I recommend this.
"Is it gone forever? I’m not certain. But I tell you it was a good world to live in. I belong to it. So do you."
Posted by Jess