You can never go home

Coming Up for Air

George Orwell

I’m always a fascinated by novels set before or during World War II that were actually published before or during WWII. It is interesting to see what authors had to say about the conflict without the benefit of hindsight. In Coming Up for Air George Orwell reminds us just how clear it was for most of the British public that war was inevitable. It’s probably wrong of me to focus on this point since so much of this book really has less to do with the War and more to do with how society and life had changed since the first world war.

Coming Up for Air is the story of 45-year old George Bowling who, on the occasion of taking delivery of his new dentures, reminisces about his childhood in the Thames valley. Idyllic days of fishing in contrast to his somewhat loveless marriage and life as father and insurance salesman. Eventually he decides to take a surreptitious week to visit his childhood village only to find things different than he expected. What most interested me about that was how Bowling was upset in 1939 at how much things had changed since his Edwardian childhood. The way that Orwell writes about it, you would think the sprawl and ugliness of the 1970s and 1980s had already happened. I guess everything is relative.

Although Orwell includes a few more fishing scenes than I have the ability to appreciate, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and always had the sense that I was in the hands of a master. Orwell shows how well he can spin a tale with humorous, subtle, social commentary. George Bowling’s adult life is pretty depressing but I found myself chuckling at his buffoonery at the same time I was rooting for his success.

7 thoughts on “You can never go home

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings January 10, 2016 / 11:23 am

    Have you read “The Ministry of Fear” by Graham Greene? It was published during and set in WW2 and the background of bombed London is very striking.


  2. Frances Evangelista (@nonsuchbook) January 10, 2016 / 11:47 am

    Appealing. Easy to forget the mastery of some writers sometimes. Those who become more associated with a particular novel or work than their identities or strengths as artists. Reading H.G. Wells or Conan Doyle in recent months has reminded me of this.


  3. heavenali January 10, 2016 / 4:06 pm

    Oh I do like the sound of this, and luckily I have it already on the mountain I call my tbr.


  4. Susan in TX January 10, 2016 / 5:18 pm

    Love Frances’ comment – I was just marveling that I wasn’t even aware that Orwell had read anything other than Animal Farm and 1984. Will have to keep my eye out for it and broaden my horizons a little more.


  5. Travellin' Penguin January 10, 2016 / 6:53 pm

    I have read several books by Orwell but had not heard of this one. I love Orwell. Must get a copy of this .


  6. Rob January 11, 2016 / 12:31 am

    I hadn’t heard of this, but I plan to keep an eye out now. I’ve only read 1984 and really need to pick up more of this books.


  7. Liz Dexter January 17, 2016 / 4:49 am

    It’s a fascinating group of books to read, isn’t it. There are a few Persephones published in 1940 and 1941 that feel very poignant for that.

    And I don’t think I’ve read this one. My favourite Orwell is Keep the Aspidistra Flying.


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