Coming Up for Air by George Orwell.

George Orwell's Coming Up for Air (1939) made the past three days for me bearable: I've had a rotten cold, the type that makes you wonder if this is the end: I've been that poorly and I'm still suffering. As you might expect I've read a fair amount these past two days whilst being stuck in bed and too ill to sleep: On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne as well, and Coming Up for Air was the absolute best and I am eternally grateful to Mr. Orwell for making this gruesome cold not quite as bad as it would have been without it.

It's a simple plot: Orwell tells the story of George Bowling. He's 45 years old and by his own account not much a looker (fat and red faced). He's an insurance salesman and is unhappily married to Hilda who married down somewhat when she married him. George finds himself hardly living, merely existing in suburbia, and when he wins a small sum of money on a horse race he decides to return to his childhood village of Lower Binfield in the Thames Valley to recapture that youthful spirit. The first part of the novel is all his idyllic reminisces of growing up in the Edwardian era, fishing, playing out with his friends, walking out with a young lady (who he did not marry) and dreaming of the many possibilities life would offer him. The second part of the novel is the reality: one cannot go back no matter how hard one might wish one could, time is inevitable and halts for no man.

It is, as I say, a very simple plot and perhaps I'm not well enough to really get into it, but I would say it is an absolute dream of a novel. It's perfect and Orwell is a very understated nature writer. He captures the essence of the 'long summer' of pre-war England, though the nostalgia is tempered: Orwell knows that however the world changed, there were some changes for the better (people, as he noted, could and did actually starve to death in bad times before the Great War, and he wrote this before the creation of the Welfare State so mercifully, despite certain politicians' best efforts, things continued to improve). Nonetheless it is impossible not to wish one could, and the novel, the first part at least, is filled with the warm air, gentle breeze, and scents of flowers and rivers. It is an astonishing achievement and is one of the best of its kind I've ever read. We can't go back, but in reading George Orwell's Coming Up for Air we can do the next best thing.

And with that I must return to bed. This is the worst cold I have ever had.

Comments

  1. This book sounds great! I have an Orwell essay coming up that I'm really looking forward to.

    Gosh, I hope that you're feeling better really soon! Make sure that you keep warm, drink lots of lemon juice, honey and ginger tea. Sending healthy thoughts your way!

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    1. Thank you! I've been having Lemsips which has helped (well, the max strength one made me feel worse, but the normal strength ones were good!) :)

      And yes, this is a fantastic book - do do read it! :D

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  2. i think it's a pandemic... Mrs. M and i had it for about three weeks and it's just now starting to leave... hold on; it well get better... i think i read this once, long ago... i'll look for it and read it again if i can...

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    1. My neighbour's got it - she's had it a fortnight. I've been off for about 5 days now, but the worst of it lasted three. I think I'm getting there but my chest is rather causing my grief. Asthma, oddly enough, isn't affected thus far though so that's good :)

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  3. This sounds good. I hope you feel better soon.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! And it's an amazing book, I adore it! :)

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