Coming Up for Air
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.