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M. G Watson
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Most people know George Orwell by two of his later works - 1984 and ANIMAL FARM. What they don't necessarily know is that, in addition to the thousands of pages of reportage, journalism and essays he also produced in his all-too-brief career, he also penned six other books, including four novels and an autobiographical study of poverty (DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON) which reads better than 90% of the novels ever written. Nevertheless, Orwell is not really thought of as a novelist, but rather as a fiery political thinker who occasionally used fiction to make his points.
COMING UP FOR AIR is as good an argument for Orwell as a novelist as can be made without referencing his masterwork, 1984. Written during the "gathering storm" period of the mid-late 1930s, it reflects not only Orwell's anxiety, dread and disgust in regards to where the world was heading, but captures as well a keen sense of nostalgia for the world as it was during his own childhood - a world without secret police, bombing planes or political fanaticism. A world where it was still possible to believe that everything turned out all right in the end.
COMING UP FOR AIR is the self-told story of George "Fatty" Bowling, a wholly ordinary, lower middle-class salesman who lives in the "inner-outer" suburbs of London. Bowling is "full figured" (meaning fat), wears false teeth, has a nagging wife and two annoying kids, and lives in a generic rowhouse he'll never pay off. He's vulgar, cynical and tactless, but just perceptive enough to be capable of epiphany. One day, wandering down a London street, he's reminded of something from his childhood at the beginning of the 20th century, which he spent in a little farming town called Lower Binfield. Suddenly overcome with nostalgia, a feeling that the world around him is soon going to be smashed to pieces by war and political upheaval, and finally by the fact that his family is suffocating him, George decides to fake a business trip and spend a week in the placid countryside where he grew up - in essence, to crawl back into the womb. But what will the womb look like after the passage of twenty-odd years? Will it still provide comfort, or just reinforce his feelings that the world is not only changing out of recognition, but for the worse?
Like all Orwell's novels, COMING UP FOR AIR is at heart a political book, at once an attack on modern society and a warning that nostalgia for the past won't bring it back.
Masquerading as a "you can't go home again" sermon, the novel is actually about the brutal contrast between the modern world in which Bailey lives (which he hates), and the more pastoral, innocent time of his youth. Although Bailey repeatedly points out the harshness of life in rural England in those sleepy years before WWI, the feeling he himself returns to over and over again is a kind of clear-eyed sentimentality, an understanding that while conditions were physically tougher, people were actually much more secure mentally and emotionally, because the world they lived in was stable and not haunted by fear - of governmental tyranny, and of a greed-crazed corporate Kultur that would systematically disenfranchise and ruin independent business owners. Orwell shows impressive, perhaps even masterly skill at recreating the atmosphere of rural England in 1905, which in Bailey's mind is always summer - insects humming, a golden haze hanging over the fields, fish jumping in the farmer's ponds. The distinction between it and modern London, where everything is cold, chromed-over and streamlined, "even the bullet Hitler's keeping for you" is startling, and shows that Orwell, so often viewed as a mean-spirited misanthrope in public-spirited clothing, was capable of a very human longing for simpler times.