Friday, 20 August 2010

Coming Up for Air

Title: Coming Up for Air

Author: George Orwell

Number of pages: 256

Started: 17 August 2010

Finished: 20 August 2010

Opening words:

The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.

I remember the morning well. At about a quarter to eight I’d nipped out of bed and got into the bathroom just in time to shut the kids out. It was a beastly January morning, with a dirty yellowish-grey sky. Down below, out of the little square of bathroom window, I could see the ten yards by five of grass, with a privet hedge round it and a bare patch in the middle, that we call the back garden. There’s the same back garden, some privets, and same grass, behind every house in Ellesmere Road. Only difference – where there are no kids there’s no bare patch in the middle.

I was trying to shave with a bluntish razor-blade while the water ran into the bath. My face looked back at me out of the mirror, and underneath, in a tumbler of water on the little shelf over the washbasin, the teeth that belonged in the face. It was the temporary set that Warner, my dentist, had given me to wear while the new ones were being made. I haven’t such a bad face, really. It’s one of those bricky-red faces that go with butter-coloured hair and pale-blue eyes. I’ve never gone grey or bald, thank God, and when I’ve got my teeth in I probably don’t look my age, which is forty-five.

Making a mental note to buy razor-blades, I got into the bath and started soaping. I soaped my arms (I’ve got those kind of pudgy arms that are freckled up to the elbow) and then took the back-brush and soaped my shoulder-blades, which in the ordinary way I can’t reach. It’s a nuisance, but there are several parts of my body that I can’t reach nowadays. The truth is that I’m inclined to be a little bit on the fat side.

Plot summary:

Years in insurance and marriage to the joyless Hilda have been no more than death in life to George Bowling. This and fear of another war take his mind back to the peace of his childhood in a small country town. But his return journey to Lower Binfield brings complete disillusionment.

What I thought:

This is the fifth of Orwell’s books that I have read and it was a decent read. It was published in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War 2 and that is the backdrop to the novel – people’s fears about what the future might hold.

It was a well written book and had some of the biting insight that Orwell is known for, mixed in with some decent humour. It was a bit like reading a shorter and less repetitive version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and touched on some of the socialist issues that Orwell was concerned about.

It was not as memorable or as clever as some of his other books, but it was an interesting look at 1930s life and the themes that Orwell would later touch on in books such as Nineteen Eighty Four begin to emerge in this book.

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