20th century

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?


Retellings, a hundred years later

One of my all-time favourite books is Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery. Yes, it’s sappy and girly. SorryNotSorry.

“It doesn’t seem possible that the term is nearly over,” said Anne. “Why, last fall it seemed so long to look forward to–a whole winter of studies and classes. And here we are, with the exams looming up next week. Girls, sometimes I feel as if those exams meant everything, but when I look at the big buds swelling on those chestnut trees and the misty blue air at the end of the streets they don’t seem half so important.”

Quotes like that ought to make me cringe, but for some reason they seem genuine coming from an early 20th century teenaged girl.

Plot summary: Anne Shirley is a red-headed eleven year old bouncing around the foster system in Canada. Through a clerical error, she is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, middle aged siblings who wanted a young boy to help with the farm. They decide to keep her anyway, and Anne is introduced to life in small town Avonlea (all this happens in Prince Edward Island, Canada- no, I don’t know where that is either). The rest of the novel describes her numerous mess-ups and college life.

This review isn’t about a 100-year-old book. It’s about a new social media adaptation of this classic. How I stumbled upon it is a story in itself. In the 1930s, a missionary from Canada gifted a copy of this book to a translator friend in Japan, who translated it to Japanese sometime during WW2. Thus, Anne has a special place in Japanese culture. Which means there’s an anime based on this story (no surprises there). I found out about this recently, and in the process of looking it up on YouTube, found Green Gables Fables, the aforementioned social media adaptation.

It’s pretty good, so far. Each character has his/her own Twitter/Tumblr profile, and Anne is an avid vlogger. Each incident gets a video or two, so the story is progressing quickly. As of the time of writing this post, the series is in its second season. The adaptation is very clever; for instance, Anne’s argument with an outspoken “aunty” prompts a rant on social media that’s seen by the aunty. An extremely apologetic YouTube video follows.

A lot of this stuff won’t seem as funny if you haven’t read the books- but if you have, definitely check this series out. 4.5/5 from me.