George Bowling is fat, forty- five and frustrated with his life. He lives in an English suburb with his sombre wife, two children and is employed as an insurance salesman. His life is the epitome of ordinariness except that this is England in 1939 and the country is on the precipice of war.
George’s thoughts turn to days gone by and he makes a return journey to his childhood village in search of the familiar. However, he finds things have changed beyond recognition and he discovers nothing but disillusionment.
This novel is a re-read for me as it is one that I always enjoy enormously. I am a fan of George Orwell and have read most of his published works but this is different to many of his other novels.
Here, he presents comic genius with what I consider one of the most amusing opening lines: “The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.” This sets the tone for the whole novel as we view the world through George Bowling’s eyes.
George is not a very likeable character and some of his views are certainly not politically correct by today’s standards. However, what this demonstrates is how people viewed the world at the time as it provides the reader with a fairly accurate glimpse into suburban attitudes in 1939.
On one hand this is humorous to read whilst at the same time the darkness of war lurks in the shadows. The descriptions of George’s childhood are enchanting; Orwell transports us back to a time of safety and innocence with the knowledge that the world is about to be changed forever by the First World War. It is apt that he finishes the book on the precipice of the Second World War when, once again, the country faces the unknown.
This is a wonderfully nostalgic novel. George Bowling tells us that “it was always summer before the war” and the author makes a conscious decision to present his protagonists childhood and youth through rose tinted glasses. However, it is wittily told and I think it shows us that Orwell was capable of a comic brilliance that we do not see in 1984 or Animal Farm.
I always enjoy reading this book and it’s one that has been on my shelves for many years and I would not part with it as I know I shall want to read this again at some point in the future. I have a lovely edition which I think was published in the 1960’s with the classic Penguin trademark orange spine that I bought in a charity shop many years ago. I think the cover is an appropriate depiction of an ordinary life with the fear of war looming in the background. What do you think? How do you think the cover compares with the current edition?
ISBN: 978 0141185699
Publisher: Penguin Classics
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