Sunday, 20 September 2009

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Title: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Author: George Orwell

Number of pages: 277

Started: 16 September 2009

Finished: 20 September 2009

Opening words:

The clock struck half past two. In the little office at the back of Mr McKechnie's bookshop, Gordon--Gordon Comstock, last member of the Comstock family, aged twenty-nine and rather moth-eaten already--lounged across the table, pushing a four-penny packet of Player's Weights open and shut with his thumb.

The ding-dong of another, remoter clock--from the Prince of Wales, the other side of the street--rippled the stagnant air. Gordon made an effort, sat upright, and stowed his packet of cigarettes away in his inside pocket. He was perishing for a smoke. However, there were only four cigarettes left. Today was Wednesday and he had no money coming to him till Friday. It would be too bloody to be without tobacco tonight as well as all tomorrow.

Read the whole book here.

Plot summary:

Gordon Comstock loathes dull, middle-class respectability and worship of money. He gives up a 'good job' in advertising to work part-time in a bookshop, giving him more time to write. But he slides instead into a self-induced poverty that destroys his creativity and his spirit. Only Rosemary, ever-faithful Rosemary, has the strength to challenge his commitment to his chosen way of life. Through the character of Gordon Comstock, Orwell reveals his own disaffection with the society he once himself renounced.

What I thought:

I quite liked this book. It wasn’t the most fast paced read, but it had some interesting moments. It seemed to have quite a lot of its origins in the book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist” – and in fact the title is drawn from an image in that book – but is rather less lengthy, although not necessarily that much more cheery. I thought it was an insight into the role of money and it could make you question how much of our lives are ruled by it, even though we might like to think that it is not. This is certainly not one of my most favourite Orwell books, but it was readable nonetheless.


Sarah said...

As a recent Orwell convert, I found your review fascinating. I've always liked 1984 and Animal Farm, but it was Homage to Catalonia, read earlier this year, which really impressed me.

The first two are unapologetic satire, Homage is autobiographical, so I wonder where Aspidistra fits in? I am suspecting that I would not like it so much as I like the others, either.

Random Reflections said...

This book is certainly nothing like 1984 or Animal Farm. I have never really thought of reading Homage to Catalonia, but you have intrigued me.

I think this book is Orwell exploring his own dislike of money and wanting to break free from it. I think it is a fairly socialist text and it very reminiscent of The ragged Trousered Philanthropist, but if you have never read it that won't help!

Sarah said...

The OH is the Orwell expert in our house. He keeps urging me to read Burmese Days. According to the all-knowing one, Aspidistra and The Clergyman's Daughter are the weaker of Orwell's novels.

I loved Homage to Catalonia; Orwell comes across as warm and idealistic, when he could have been cynical. It's refreshing!

Still, in an ideal world I would like to read them all for completeness...

Sarah said...

Oops! Meant to say 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropist?'

You may have to help me out a little there. Please?

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - Your OH is very useful to have about. I have never really thought to read Burmese Days, but such enthusiasm about it seems to have inspired me. Perhaps I will read that one soon.

I think if Aspidstra was your first Orwell, it wouldn't particuarly inspire you to read his others, which would be a travesty.

Do you want a run down on The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist? It's basically a very long (fictional) book that is meant to have inspired many a socialist politician - including many in New Labour, which I have to say I find surprising...

It focusses a lot on the hardships that people faced before the Welfare State and the huge impact of poverty. I think it has lost some of its impact for people who have always known the NHS etc.

It is a very long book, a bit miserable and a bit repetitive in places, but it is meant to have been a big influence on the setting up of the unions etc. I am not sure if I would recommend it, but it is one of those books which in its time had a big impact on the setting up of various welfare reforms.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Random. I shan't have to look blank now if anyone mentions the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. (But I may not be exactly rushing out to buy a copy...)

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - I don't think you need to worry that your life is somehow lacking because you haven't read it. It is worth a read, but I think there are other books that are much more worthy of prioritising.