Saturday, September 26, 2009

What I Just Read: Coming Up For Air

This was the book I was supposed to finish on our last trip to New York, that was about a month ago. I have no excuse except that that bed was so damn comfy looking.

One can never go home again, that's what I took away Coming Up For Air by George Orwell. The first half of the books is the recounting of the dull life that was and still is George Bowling, his parents, his first sexual experience, his love for fishing, serving and not serving in WW I, and about how fat he is. This mostly boring first half of the book is almost made up by the fact that the second half is devoted to him realizing that everything he remembered and held in such high regard has either vanished, changed into something he despises or may never have existed in the first place.

Yet underneath the mundane and nostalgic life of George Bowling is a classic Orwell undertone; the haves abuse the have nots and that is never going to change.

My favorite scene in the book is when George goes with his wife to listen to a famous Anti-Fascist give a lecture. George is not that interested in the lecture because he knows Hitler is a bad man and he does not need to be told so by a man spewing hatred. The thing is George does not care what type of system is in charge be it fascists, democracy, communism or whatever, he is still going to be making a few pounds a week and have to listen to his wife complain about the price of butter. He sees the arguments between the Communists and Trotsky supporter in front of him as nothing but rearranging chairs on the Titanic. Nothing matters.

Through George, Mr. Orwell is taking note of the pre WW II political landscape and saying he really does not care for it. There is going to be a war, people are going to die, England may end up under fascist rule but in the end will anything really change? Politically of course, because if Coming Up For Air tries to prove anything it's that though many things change, most things stay the same.

Though this book was fairly boring and at times difficult to get through there are very good parts to the book. In addition to the scene at the lecture, there is an almost prophetic sequence in which George describes the London Blitz with houses reduced to rubble and for the most part all out destruction. The thing is Coming Up For Air was written in June 1939 a full year before the Battle of Britain began, a truly amazing imagination.

I have always enjoyed Orwell, but then again who does not like Animal Farm and 1984. If it was not for the fact that I read Down and Out In Paris and London and loved it I do not think I would have bothered reading Coming Up for Air. I like Orwell's bleak outlook on mankind, his pessimistic view that power undoubtedly corrupts and the greedy always vanquish those who are not. It may be bleak and glass half empty , but I enjoy it.

The book design is fairly modest, a white background with gold trimming and a neat black and white picture of a man vaulting a large puddle which Katy says looks a lot like a photo that Henri Cartier-Bresson would have taken, neat none the less. I like it despite the misleading title and the hopeful picture.

I have one other Orwell book in my possession that I have yet to read, Homage to Catalonia, which is a work of non-fiction about the Spanish Civil War, I plan on giving it a try in the near future.

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