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Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

18 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Orwell's best, 27 Aug 2003
Coming Up For Air is a pleasant enough chronicle of one man's failed attempt to retreat to the security of his childhood. George Bowling is unhappy with himself, his menial job, expanding waist and receding hairline. He is also unhappy with the world at large and the war that he fears to be inevitibly on the horizon. He therefore decides to return to the town in which he grew up. This return proves to be ill faited and George finds the fields in which he played and the pond in which he fished built upon, and his childhood sweetheart as overweight as George himself. It highlights the futility of looking back and forces George to face the present he so despised.
This is not by any stretch of the imagination Orwells best work, indeed it is perhaps questionable whether he ever tackled this type of writing as well as his more political work (see A Clergyman's Daughter). While anyone who has ever found themselves dreaming about days past will find a character they will recognise in George Bowling, Orwell's (perhaps understandable) preoccupation with the forthcoming war looms large over the entire book and does date it somewhat. Ever the polemicist Orwell seems to place the need to shock his readership (1939 Britain) ahead of the needs of plot or Bowling's personal journey. This means that while the book remains of worth as a document of its time, and will be of interest to anyone who holds a personal interest in Orwell the man or writer, you may be better off looking elsewhere to read a heartwarming tale of a daydreamer (Walter Mitty, History of Mr Polly), or more readable examples of Orwell's pre-war fiction (Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying).

The History Of Mr Polly (Everyman)
The History Of Mr Polly (Everyman)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Escape from the Edwardian Rat Race, 27 Aug 2003
For those who, like me, were always put off HG Wells through a mistaken belief that he was a science fiction writer, The History of Mr Polly may well come as a pleasant surprise.
The book is the reassuring tale of one mans eventful stumble toward utopia, which should offer hope to fretful drifters the world over.
Three quarters of the book chronicles the painfully comic descent of Mr Polly from youthful apprentice in a leading department store to the middle aged, unhappily married and bankrupt-in-all-but-name owner of a regional gentlemans outfitters. Mr Polly manages to gain weight, while his hair recedes and number of friends dwindle. Polly retreats behind the pages of his beloved books, until he finally decides to put an end to his increasingly miserable existence. This is the turning point of Mr Polly's life. He comes out of the botched attempt a hero, yet rejects his previous life and goes off in search of a new one. This Mr Polly finds.
Although the tone of the novel is definitely black this book should definitely leave you feeling good about yourself. It offers hope that a happy life is out there for everyone and that it is never too late to go out and find it.

The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin Popular Classics)
The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin Popular Classics)
by George Grossmith
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turn of the century comedy still manages to raise a laugh, 26 Aug 2003
Diary of a Nobody tells the story (in diary form) of Edwardian clerk Mr Charles Pooter. Mr Pooter is a roaring stereotype of the turn of the century, white-collar, lower-middle class to which he belongs, from his snobbish pomposity and sense of social importance, to his suburban home in Holloway (home: The Laurels). Pooter is a man out of his time, his ideals and attitudes are those of the mid 19th century when his position as clerk would have obtained for him the social respect that Pooter still clearly thinks he deserves. However, the Great Agricultural Depression meant that clerks positions were no longer as secure as they had been 30 years previously, while the spread of education and literacy meant that the rank of office clerk were considerably less exclusive or esteemed. Pooter completely fails to recognise this and much of the books humour stems from his inability to change with the times and his continuing bemusement as to why people he considers beneath him (his grocer, his cleaner, his son's friends) fail to show him the respect Pooter feels he deserves.
While much of the humour could be lost on those unfamilar with the finer points of contemporary Edwardian society, this does not mean that enjoyment of the book is exclusive. Pooter is a genuinely warm, well meaning character, completely recognisible to a 21st century audience. While the peiod may differ, many of the problems which cause Pooter such worry are exactly the same as today. He his constantly vexed by the behaviour of his son (the ridiculously named Lupin), friends (Cummings and Gowings) and his job.
All in all, Diary of a Nobody is an inoffensive yet heart warming tale. While it may seem dated, reading it definitely remains an amusing and worthwile way to spend an afternoon.

All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that should never be forgotten, 10 Jun 2002
If today's generation is to be made aware of the sacrifices made by their forebears and put their own problems into a reasonable perspective then this is the book to do it. It effectively evokes both the horror of trench life and the sheer futility of the majority of lives lost during the hostilities. It also captures the spirit of comradeship amongst those in the trenches, the empathy felt toward those on the other side of the barbed wire and the sense of betrayal and alienation felt by the mobilised generation towards their elders back home, fed the untruths of propaganda and so involved in the making of the war, yet so removed from the terrible actualities of life on the Western Front.
Despite this "All Quiet on the Western Front" is much more than any mere history lesson. It is a story of friendship, bereavement and growing up. It should invoke anger, tears and laughter and above all compel you to thank god that you were born into today's Europe rather than that of 1914-18, or indeed any period of mass warfare. In short if this book fails to move you, you may be dead.

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