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4.5 out of 5 stars
Coming Up for Air (Penguin Modern Classics)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2010
I am not a purist literary critic by any means and struggled to detect all the hints of 1984 and Animal Farm that others have spotted, but I prefer to look at this novel on its own as a wonderfully evocative snapshot of a life lived in two chronologically juxtaposed but quite distinct English eras. It reminded me of Laurie Lee's brilliant descriptions of life in rural England around the same time and his action in the Spanish Civil War. As has been pointed out, this is perhaps all the more remarkable for the fact that it is written like a very convincing autobiographical account about a person and situation that would have otherwise been quite unremarkable. There is no great story on offer here, no wonderfully empathetic characters, no revelations, so it is very impressive that we are held merely by the incredible, yet simple descriptions of life and are totally convinced by them.

Obviously Orwell wrote this for a comtemporary audience, not one I am sure that is reading the book 70 years on, and yet the obvious parallels with the feelings many people have at any time in the last two centuries that things are changing too quickly and not always for the best are extraordinary and resonant. I am not the least bit surprised therefore that the 17 year old reviewer did not get the same satisfaction reading this book by his favourite author, I can only encourage him to re-visit the book in twenty or thirty years time as a friend of mine has just done, as I am sure his appreciation will grow enormously as he becomes more empathetic with the views of a middle-aged man mourning the passage of time.

Yet I didn't care for everything and I am confused by my feelings about George Bowling. On the one hand I am appalled by his misongyny, his lack of emotional connection to his parents' death, the complete absence in turn of any apparent feelings for his own children, who are barely mentioned, and his complacency with his rather repellant figure and dental health; on the other hand, had he been more likeable the book would have been in danger of being a sickeningly sweet rose-tinted spectacles piece of nostalgia. So, I suppose on balance I preferred that George's character kept challenging me and stopped me from merely sinking into a chocolate box England that never existed. George's imprefections serve an important role in keeping the whole thing real. In case you haven't gathered, I was mesmereised by this simple tale. Brilliant, although I could probably have done with a little less fishing!
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on 22 October 2014
I've been an Orwell for years, and yet I never knew just how hilariously funny he could be.

I don't recall laughing harder at the early pages of a book than I did at this. Orwell nails dead centre the curse of lower-middle class status paranoia that I had mistakenly thought was a latter day phenomena, yet was clearly alive and well in a completely recognisable form back in the 1930s.

George Bowling is a scarcely disguised composite and vehicle for Orwell's world views, and yet is humanised by Orwell's own deep sense of nostalgia and self-depreciating observations. You care about this guy, warts and all, because you know him in a great number of people you see.

Beneath the humour, the documentary-like observations of early C20 England and the hilarious and yet painful analysis of the entrapped lives the aspirational classes exist within so we can pass a bit of wealth to our brood, there lies the stark and powerful reminder to cease the key moments in life as and when they present themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2013
Imagine 'Down and out...' but in the suburbs of the Home Counties. Orwell portrays the hopelessness and frustrations of the lower middle class perfectly. Surprised that this doesn't seem to garner as many mentions as 1984 or Animal Farm, as it's a book that properly resonates today too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2013
This is a book that seemed to be talking to me, and me alone. George Orwell wrote a truly wonderful gem. It speaks to our need to have roots and reminds me of my childhood memories, a gentler and enjoyable time. Read and enjoy
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2005
wonderfully nostalgic and witty, i loved every page. Having read the majority of Orwell's work this one was beautifully simplistic and a joy to read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2002
As with 'Keep the aspidistra flying', the subject of the book seems to be boredom in the modern age. In the words of Orwell however boredom becomes the most interesting thing you could perhaps wish to write about. Excellently paced, nice character description and just the right amount of 'useless' filling.
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on 7 June 2015
I might have really enjoyed this, if I ever got to read it. I bought for my kindle app on android. However my kindle app constantly asked me to re download it even though I had done so dozens of times. In the end I had to ask for a refund and I have now un installed kindle! Not happy!
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on 27 August 2015
Classic fiction, witty, dark humoured, the central character and his miserable attempt to revisit his youth will strike a chord with many readers, Orwell at his best.
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on 25 March 2015
It's an interesting snap shot into the pre-World War II era. Orwell has a pithy and compelling writing style. The book arrived on time and in perfect condition.
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on 14 February 2013
A real discovery. I like it immensely. The great contrast with '1984' is so remarkable, that I can't but recommend it to my friends.
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