Coming Up for Air

This is a review of Coming Up for Air, by George Orwell.

832138-_uy200_On the book cover, a reviewer comments about how this is possibly the prequel to Animal Farm and 1984. It thus proves that most book jacket reviews are misguiding. At least, I didn’t see any of the depth that characterised the aforementioned books. Heck, I didn’t see the main theme of Animal Farm or 1984 in this book. Nevertheless, Coming Up for Air holds its own.

Coming Up for Air slips dangerously into being a comedy. On Goodreads it is described as a comedy. I’m not sure all readers will agree.

The book also tries to be a journal of an awfully bored and pensive man, George Bowling. It is set in the late 1930s in England, a time when everyone expected war and large scale poverty.

The constant theme is a lamentation of change that seems to have been constant. Bowling immerses himself into warm nostalgia about fishing and a quietness that defined villages back in the day, before the war. The Boer wars, Bowling believes, will repeat itself in some form in the years to come; and that the post-war losses and darkness in the future will be the same as after the Boer wars.

As predicted, England announces war. Bowling sees bombers flying over him, and is overwhelmed into revisiting his past. When he goes back to his village to escape what he sees as inevitable, he realises that the village is no more the same. Everything he remembers about it has changed beyond recognition. A void is created in him, which is further widened by his family and the society he lives in.

Despite the overall dullness of the storyline, it does not predict dystopia (unlike the more famous Orwell books). But it drops many hints on why war is an abomination. It is also one of those books that does not help you to relate to, or to feel any kind of affection towards the protagonist, and despite that, it makes you wonder if he will be okay.

The book is lively with respect to the imagery it conjures up. Sometimes it makes you shake your head at the wry and subtle humour, especially when Bowling describes the society and his family.

In sum, it’s a good read on a long weekend if it’s raining and you have nothing else to do. This Orwell book is also recommended if you like fishing. George Bowling loves fishing. So much so that it made me wonder if it was a metaphor for something more significant. Did I miss something here?


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