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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff - Definitely worth reading.
What always strikes me about Orwell's writing is the amount of meaning he imbues into such apparently simple language. More than anything this book is utterly readable, but while being easy to read you constantly have the feeling that you are learning a lot - and I mean that in a good way. After reading a single chapter about an episode in a character's past, you come out...
Published on 10 Feb 2010 by Garth Algar

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18 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Orwell's best
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...
Published on 27 Aug 2003 by mjruscoe


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff - Definitely worth reading., 10 Feb 2010
This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
What always strikes me about Orwell's writing is the amount of meaning he imbues into such apparently simple language. More than anything this book is utterly readable, but while being easy to read you constantly have the feeling that you are learning a lot - and I mean that in a good way. After reading a single chapter about an episode in a character's past, you come out feeling like you have learnt more about that period in history than from all other reading, general knowledge and long-forgotten lessons put together.

Coming Up For Air isn't about telling a story, or even about creating a character (which it does spectacularly well), it's a state-of-the-nation piece that draws you right in - letting you know with exquisite detail and real atmosphere what life was like in home counties England from the turn of the century, through the Great War and it's aftermath, up to the looming inevitability of the horrors of WW2. Seeing life through the eyes George Bowling - a shopkeeper's son turned soldier turned unhappily married insurance salesman living in the outer suburbs - provides a generally original viewpoint on the times. History is very rarely told from the perspective of the lower-middle class, and it makes for an interesting angle.

Something else which struck me is the accuracy of foresight displayed by Orwell when it comes to predictions about the second world war. I had to constantly check the publication date to confirm that it was indeed written in 1939. The way he describes many of the events yet to come is incredibly prescient - more so, maybe, than in 1984, although you can see some of those ideas forming here. You can also see why, with the gentle pace of the story, and a central character that won't be sympathetic to all readers, CUFA is not top of most people's list of Orwell's most famous classics. It is, however, a gem - the winning way he has of dealing with the greatest of themes with the lightest of linguistic touches makes for a really absorbing read.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future is all rotten, 22 April 2006
This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Orwell captures the spirit of a generation here. His central character sees salvation in returning to the happy environment of his youth, and with it some escape from a wretched existence. Yet, he finds nothing but change and is disillusioned by the experience. It's a novel that explores the theme of the modern world and a changing society. We often feel that in the present fast-moving world we have a monopoly on complaining about the world of the future. Orwell demonstrate's that unease about changing towns, cities, and nations has existed for as long as people have lived in communities.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undeservedly neglected - one of Orwell's best, 15 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I doubt if 1% or the people who've read "1984" or "Animal Farm" have read this novel. This is sad indeed, as it's a fine novel in its own right, not just a book to be read for Orwell completists. The narrator, George Bowling, is an ordinary, pretty decent middle England sort of character, trapped in a lifeless marriage and nostalgic for days gone past. To try to recapture better days, he revisits his home town - but things don't go as planned... The plot of the book is sparse, with much of the text being George's recollections of old times and people, and his observations about British (or should that be English) life in the 1930s. Orwell's powers of observation were never sharper than here, and in the narrator, he created one of his few memorable fictional characters. And there's humour too. It is interesting to compare this novel with some popular books of the late 50s and early 60s such as "Hurry on Down" and "Saturday Night & Sunday Morning". I found myself wondering whether Orwell was the spiritual father of the Angry Young Men.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell at his funniest and most autobiographical, 12 Aug 2010
By 
Gitau Githinji (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
If you only read the apocalyptic misery of 1984 or the gut-wrenching descriptions of extreme squalor in Down and Out in Paris and London and A Clergyman's Daughter, you would probably have little hesitation in describing George Orwell as a cheerless writer. He certainly has an impressive faculty for depicting human suffering in graphic detail but, from the evidence of this book, that is clearly not all that he does.

There is more, much more, to Orwell than gloom. In Coming up for Air we are treated to sunny passages of a happier, funnier Orwell. This book is truly sublime.

The chief protagonist, George Bowling, is a fat, middle-aged bloke who is trapped in a life he loathes with a nagging wife from whom he cannot escape. He longs for the joys of his country childhood when he enjoyed simple pleasures like walking through beautiful English fields and woods and indulged in the thing that gave him more pleasure than any other: fishing. All the while he is worried that everything he holds sacred is about to be destroyed forever by yet another pointless war not long since he has survived active service in World War I.

The powers of description displayed by Orwell in painting vivid pictures of the landscape of Bowling's childhood are truly breathtaking. In these one can see that Orwell is being autobiographical.

Writing in the first person, Orwell brings out emotions in Bowling which all of us are sometimes guilty of possessing. Who can truthfully say that they have never felt like Bowling and wanted to escape the stifling drudgery of modern living, however briefly?

If you haven't already done so, do yourself a favour and read a copy of this charming novel. Like its title, reading it feels like coming up for air.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully readable and true to life, 29 Jan 2009
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
An absolutely wonderful evocative novel, full of witty and poignant observations about lower middle class life between the wars, the fear of war (this was published in 1939), the securities and horrors of cosy family life and the power of nostalgia and the "golden age" myth of one's youth. Orwell's fear of war is that of the triumph of totalitarianism in Britain, and his descriptions of what he fears this will be like clearly presage his descriptions of Aistrip One in 1984. Despite this horror, there are many laugh out loud moments. This should be better known and more widely read than it is.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, touching and beautifully invoking 2 historic periods, 6 Mar 2000
By 
asandk@yahoo.co.uk (Derbyshire, England) - See all my reviews
This book has long been a great personal favourite. It is fashionable to talk down Orwell as a novelist and to concentrate on the essays and journalism. Well, most of his less well-known novels do not really work. But this one does. It brilliantly invokes national anxiety on the eve of the Second World War, and also, in a long retrospective, life in ordinary upper-working/lower-middle class Edwardian England before the horrors of 1914-18 were in sight. And in tracing the decline of historic shops and townscapes, and the rise of the east midlands new towns, and sets out how we got from one to the other.
George Bowling, the book's narrator, is finely drawn: pathetic, doomed, but eternally resilient and resigned. he gives the book a delightful comedy which drives it across its political landscapes.
And all is in Orwell's finest informal, elegant prose.
A real treat.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly good, 10 May 2011
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
"Coming Up For Air" is perhaps one of the finest novels I've read about yearning for the past, and the reality of finding a return to nostalgic haunts something of a disappointment. First published in 1939 - just before the outbreak of war - the book retains a comtemporary feel that is almost disturbing in places, such are the resonances Orwell achieves with modern times.

Fat, forty-five and fed up with his lot, George Bowling yearns for the simpler pleasures of his youth, and through a vivid recollection of those times in early 20th century England (worth reading for that alone) - eventually returns to the location he remembers so well. No surprise that it's something of a disappointment - but Orwell weaves not only an interesting and darkly humorous story about nostalgia - but also a rather grim vision of what the future will be like. And he was pretty much spot on.

The feel of the book is very modern for something written at the end of the thirties, and once again proves that our own generation simply doesn't have the monopoly on angst-ridden questions and frustrations with modern living. A brilliant read - and the hard-nosed nostalgia portrayed by the central character is amongst the finest evocations of times past that you are likely to read.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England-your-England..., 5 Aug 2006
By 
Matthew Mercy (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Nobody has ever claimed that this is George Orwell's greatest novel, but though Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm will always have more intellectual respect, from an emotional standpoint Coming Up For Air is in a class of its own. It is possibly Orwell's `softest' novel, as his concerns about poverty and politics feature less here than in any of his other books, fiction or not. But even today, nearly seventy years after it was written, the themes of Coming Up For Air apply to our ever-changing world more than ever. The England of George Bowling's childhood, a fading memory in 1939, is now gone, lost for ever after a hundred years of `progress'. Read this book and cry for England; it's still dying, one day at a time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coming Back for Air, 9 Jan 2010
This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I first became aware of this book when I heard it on 'A Book at Bedtime' on Radio 4 in about 1975. I have read it a number of times in the subsequent 35 years & it is always a joy.

There is a precious irony in relating George Bowling's concerns re loss in the context of England in 1939 to the same worries we have today.

Forget the parallels & the underlying pathos of our decline as a nation, just enjoy this book as a wonderful narrative of an Englishman who knows he is beaten, but wants to have one last innocent adventure before he goes under.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptionally realistic fictional biography..., 4 July 2002
By 
S. JENKIN (LONDON United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
...of a life that Orwell as an individual was never really a part of, making it all the more a masterpiece.
This is definately a must-read piece literature for the modern youth who, without the understanding of the past will never learn to overcome the barriers that were faced in the described periods [~1900-1938] (e.g. ignorance to the fallacy of war being fun and beneficial, and the inability of youths to understand that overweight people or those over 30 are actually human too etc., which can be overcome simply by reading Bowling's chillingly sad contrasts of being young and old, thin and fat etc.). The novel also really encapsulates the early-20th century transitions that occured socially and geographically in semi-rural England; the whole rags-and-rich-sole to riches-and-no-sole industrialisational process which seemingly struck, as well as themes which have nothing to do with the setting in particular - aging, social acceptance and the dead-endness of 'modern' married/white collar life in particular. Mature readers will surely be able to relate to Bowling in his disgruntled approach to change, as the change is from something that he loves to something that he hates, but as he describes - the new people of Lower Binfield have no concept of pre-ww1 Lower Binfield and so don't really care about what he has to say, and so he is resigned to accept that he is merely a relic of the past, a 'ghost', as Orwell puts it.
Apart from this exquisite narrative of the transitions in the period, Orwell is also extremely witty with his writing, whilst still being very readable for any lay-man. He uses the title 'Coming Up For Air' to describe Bowling's situation; currently being underwater and suffocating in his current lifestyle and feeling an inner desire to breathe again by 'coming up for air' (by going back to his youth, where he was free to breathe). In the same way he compares the situation to being under a great heap of garbage and trying to come up for air.
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Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (Paperback - 25 Jan 2001)
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