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George Orwell: Coming Up For Air

While 1984, Animal Farm and, to a lesser extent, Homage to Catalonia are the ones that get the publicity and appear on the lists, this book should not be underestimated, as it is a very fine novel. It has a great opening line – The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth. The narrator is George Bowling, nicknamed Fatty, unhappily married to Hilda (who is the eternal pessimist) and father of two unruly children.

One day he wins a small amount of money on the horses. He is unsure what vices to spend the money on – women, whiskey or cigars – when it occurs to him to visit his boyhood home of Lower Binfield (presumably based on Henley) and remember the good old days. Of course, the good old days have all gone. Orwell and Bowling do a wonderful job of remembering Lower Binfield as it was, in a way that is reminiscent of Henry Williamson. But Orwell does as good a job of showing how awful the world is going to be (this book was written in 1938 when it did not take a rocket scientist to predict World War II and its horrors), as his visit ends with the Germans bombing Lower Binfield and his return to the suspicious Hilda. With the horrors of the world to come and the horrors of his marriage coming forcefully and relentlessly in on him at the end, poor George is left with little hope. Lower Binfield has gone.

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Text of the novel

Publishing history

First published 1939 by Victor Gollancz