Top positive review
Don't bypass this underrated classic
16 August 2011
Compared to Orwell's more celebrated works, such as Animal Farm and 1984, Coming Up for Air receives comparatively little attention or critical acclaim. That's a pity, because this is unquestionably one of his finest works. All the usual Orwellian themes are here - the constraints of social class and the inability to change personal circumstance for the better, the alienation of the individual in an increasingly insensible world, the loss of the 'old ways' and a yearning for a return to more compassionate values, physical decay and death mirroring social disintergration. Orwell is like a latter-day Thomas Hardy. Unlike Keep the Aspidistra Flying or 1984, where the protagonist feels strongly autobiographical in every sense, in Coming Up for Air, the story is carried by plump, middle-aged, travelling salesman George Bowling. While his characterization may not be as wholly convincing as Orwell's more autobiographical characters, his concerns are very much the usual stamping ground. And like 1984, Orwell casts a prescient eye over the near future where democracy is threatened by totalitarianism, this time in the rising threat of Stalin and Hitler and the onset of WWII. Coming Up for Air is less polemical than other Orwell works, and perhaps easier to read for that. The narrative, with the occasional dabs of wry humour - George's self-deprecation at his growing unattractiveness to the opposite sex, for example, and the slightly comical obsession with carp fishing, mixed with quite profound social comment, is classic Orwell through and through. Orwell is up there with the very finest British writers and the only regrettable fact of Orwell's career is he spent much of writing journalism, political tracts and essays and left us with comparatively few novels.