Genre: English Novel

Published: 1939 - Read:

Coming Up for Air

George Orwell (1903 - 1950)

Pages: 256


Not Tom Daley's recent memoir [excellent title for an Olympic diver's autobiography btw]... but rather the strange pre WW2 fictional memoir of George Bowling. The novel's opening words should be better known as a striking first sentence: "The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth". Almost as good as: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen". But I digress...

Bowling is described as a fat, married, middle-aged insurance salesman, with two kids and a house in the suburbs.

Orwell's brother-in-law (and others) suspect that the character is based on him, Humphry Dakin. But many of the memories must surely be based on Orwell's own. The descriptions of life in Lower Binfield at the end of the C19th are evocative and sometimes sentimental - but there is also no shying away from the harshness of life in those days.

In short, the book is 'a trip down memory lane' by a quite dislikeable bloke. It is written in the first person , and this makes the startling honesty of the narrator, at times, shocking. He goes on about his 'fatness' and his antipathy towards his wife and kids - it's almost as if he does not like himself much.

The main themes are: war is coming (the book was published in June 1939), the countryside is being built over and nature destroyed, life is a struggle and the working middle-class man lives in constant fear of losing his job and is beset with money worries.

The book is very funny in places, but (inevitably) there are some triggers for the woke brigade to watch out for. Attitudes have changed!

The cover of this edition alludes to George Bowling's passion as a boy for fishing. There is a memorable episode when he nearly gets to go fishing in France whilst serving in the First World War. The trouble he and his friend go to to improvise a rod, hook and line all comes to nothing as they are ordered to move on before the fishing expedition can be undertaken. That really stands as a metaphor for the whole book... disappointment and under-achievement prevail.

A strange book, but I am glad I've read it, and am now nearer completing the novels of one of England's most interesting and respected writers.





Very glad I read it. Recommended. Did not blow my socks off!