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A novel that explores the pastoral life and experiences of youth in Edwardian England before the First World War as a memory of a man who is anxious about his own existence and pessimistic about his nation's inevitable progress towards another world war.
I think John Wain was right when he said, "What makes _Coming Up For Air_ so peculiarly bitter to the taste is that, in addition to calling up the twin spectres of totalitarianism and workless poverty, it also declares the impossibility of 'retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies' - because it postulates a world in which these things are simply not there any more."
This is a pessimistic novel that deals with sevearl paired themes:
- nostalgia for the past vs fear of the future
- memory vs truth
- memento mori vs inevitable change
- the individual/internal vs the universal/external
- liberty vs loss
- poverty vs wealth
As with Orwell's other work, 'Coming Up for Air' has some amazing prose and is definitely worth the effort. Brown does a great job reading this novel in a way that evokes both the pre-World War I and pre-World War II eras.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
OK. Orwell is one of the most important writers in the English language. 1984 is probably the book that saved us from living entirely in the society it describes. And all of 1984 is here, in embryo, disguised as a book about going back to your youth and it's environs.
Orwell is always at his most fluid when he is describing politics or nature and here he goes full pelt at both of them. The Two Minutes Hate is here. Duckspeak is here. And so is the Golden Country. And here the description of the Golden Country is given full reign. And runs to cover quite a bit of the first few chapters.
I allow myself the conceit that George Bowling, the main protagonist, is actually the father of the Winston Smith of 1984. The timeline is nearly right and there are aspects of Bowling's story that make it just about possible. I'm pretty sure that Orwell had no intention to make it so but the two stories definitely flow into each other in a way that this idea enhances.
The story is however mainly about the coarseness of progress and the loss of rural life to commercialism, speculation and "airy fairynesss" for lack of a better phrase. This novel was published during the period where totalitarian states were taking actions that Orwell recognised as leading to inevitable war but before the actual outbreak of conflict for Britain. As such it is an important window onto that period of history.
The narration is very good and the overall production is excellent.
If you only ever read one Orwell it should be this one, but shame on you if it is.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful