As clearly, accessibly and authentically written as the subject himself would have insisted on
The title of Dennis Glover’s faction about George Orwell and his writing, was a possible work-in-progress title for Orwell’s last novel, the extraordinarily reverberating Nineteen Eighty Four
Australian author Glover has very clearly penned an absolute labour of love here, which though drawing strongly from Orwell’s writing and from various biographical and historical writings of his times, is crafted as a novel, and in language which tries for the clarity and immediacy of Orwell’s own writing.
Eric Blair the man was someone of great complexity. I confess he was very much a hero of my youth, and not only the novels, but the much cherished 4 volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, published by Penguin still maintain their battered, thumbed presence on my bookshelves
Glover’s book starts really with the writing of Keep The Aspidistra Flying, published in 1936. Central character Gordon Comstock, a shabby, high minded unsuccessful writer, castigates and vilifies the bourgeoisie, and exists on the edges of genteel penury, whilst working in a bookshop and seeking to find a way to bed his girl, Rosemary, when neither of them have the money to find privacy to do so, in a world of sharp eyed landladies living on the premises.
He started walking. Bleakness. Why did he have to be good at bleakness? Obviously, to represent failure, bleakness was inevitable. But how many writers had become successful by depressing everyone? Such writers were usually famous after they were dead….You didn’t buy books in order to feel gloomy, did you? For 10/6 you wanted a little happiness and pleasure…..Bleakness, it occurred to him, meant he would never be able to afford to marry. He picked up a piece of brick and threw it over the embankment at the water, but it landed in the mud
Orwell himself drew heavily on his own experiences with this one, a reflection of the challenges between being a high minded writer and a successful one. Not to say the challenges of getting published in the first place.
Orwell moved with ease – well, the results moved with ease, however hard the writing itself may have been in the crafting – between fiction, whether mined from his own experiences or from the lives of the times, and from his investigations into the reality of what life was like, particularly for those on the margins of society, or at least, deprived from present power which might shape society. His writing on the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, which is also covered here, on the life of the poor, The Road to Wigan pier and Down and Out in Paris and London are also explored.
Glover beautifully delineates Blair the man, Orwell the writer and avoids slipping into hagiography.
I found myself moved and excited by Glover’s fictional imaginings, – how particular ideas, phrases, events might have made their way into his two most bleak and warning fictions – Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four – for example, the horrific rat episode in his last book, juxtaposed with reality on Jura, in a damp, decaying, isolated abandoned farmhouse, where he had retreated to in order to write and edit his last novel. At this time, Orwell was in severely failing health, with tuberculosis. His specialist had forbidden writing, through the exertion any activity was placing on his lungs, and he had also had several excruciating sounding procedures carried out to try and manage the condition, before then being treated with a new medicine, Streptomycin, which was also not without horrific side effects at the dosage required.
He realised with a shudder that the future wasn’t something to look forward to, but something to be frightened of. Yes, it was coming alright
I found this section of Glover’s book almost unbearable and heartbreaking, even though they were leavened by the satisfaction found in the crafting of the writing itself, by the dying man
For the first time, he was no longer certain he would live to see the world rebuilt. And even if it was rebuilt, maybe it would all happen again, people’s memories being so short
I recommend this most warmly to Orwell’s admirer’s – but also, to those for whom the subject himself may not be so well known. It stands on its merits as a very well crafted, thought provoking novel
This was a wonderful choice by my on-line bookclub so well done to the pickers of the titles and to those of us who voted for this one (including me!)