My preoccupation with British literature set in the immediate pre-WW2 era and in, or around, London continues. I recently read Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton and that kick started a whole fascination with English literature set in or around London c1939. In addition to Hangover Square, particular recent highlights include…
…it’s a rich vein that I continue to mine.
“Coming Up For Air” was my first George Orwell since “Homage to Catalonia” a few years back (whilst preoccupied with books about the Spanish Civil War). I’d also read “1984” and “Animal Farm” when I was a teenager.
This book is another great slice of pre-WW2 English literature. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It evokes the era perfectly. The book is split into four parts. The second part is full of childhood reminiscences from the early twentieth century. The protagonist recalls his childhood from the perspective of the late 1930s. This section reminded me very much of “Cider with Rosie” (one of my favourite books), with the key difference that this is fiction. It made me wonder how Orwell managed to so credibly know, and be able to relate, a childhood in a small rural community. Either way it’s a stunning section, and also very cleverly manages to highlight some of the seismic changes that took place for the average person in the UK throughout the twentieth century.
George Bowling, the middle-aged, middle-income protagonist is a great vehicle for Orwell’s musings on pre-WW2 England. Bowling is an insightful, straight talking Everyman character who conveys his thoughts with great honesty and self-deprecating humour.
The book also contains some hints at what was to come with “1984” which Orwell would write a few years later - specifically musings on an ”after-war” dystopian future characterised by hate, slogans, secret cells etc. Remarkably prescient and demonstrating he was already thinking about some of the themes that were later developed so memorably in “1984”.
The end of the book is pretty downbeat and this tone characterises the whole book and therefore might not be to everyone’s taste. I loved it. I’ve already bought Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” which I will read soon. If you like any of the books I list at the start of this review then I’m confident you’d enjoy this book too.