George Orwell - Coming Up for Air
This is my fifth Orwell and the one I liked the most, so far.
I reckon how I should reread (and in English at this time) both 1984 and Animal Farm before putting Coming Up for Air on top, but at the moment it stands there.
So why have I liked this novel so much?
Oh, there are several and kind of personal reasons.
To begin with, I had the chance to spend some time in the tiny village of Sutton Courtenay where Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell rests. Sutton Courtenay is just a little corner of Oxfordshire without a single shop, two or three pubs and a church with the graveyard hosting the tombs of Orwell and the former British prime minister Lord Asquith. There are plenty of bunnies popping up in the fields and the funny statue of a dog guarding up the porch of an old mansion. The river Thames flows nearby. A perfectly functioning lock let the boats go by.
It's just a coincidence that Orwell ended up in Sutton Courtenay at the end of his way too short days, but as a matter of fact he spent some time wandering and wondering around there when he was a kid.
Now, what Coming Up for Air is if not an elegy of a similar corner of Oxfordshire? You can really picture young Eric Arthur spending his time fishing along the grassy banks of the river back in the old days and riding his fixed-wheel bicycle up and down a little hill.
The imaginary town of Lower Binfield reminded me of Abingdon, where I currently live, with its market square, its High Street, its beer factory chimney and the bygone shops swallowed by the big distribution.
The only difference is that Orwell wrote about this "lost England" at the end of the 1930s sighing for how much things changed in a span of only thirty years.
And the way this dull, but peaceful Lower Binfield has given way to an industrial, red-bricked town populated by people coming from Lancashire or Staffordshire and with no roots in Oxfordshire is masterfully rendered.
I could actually do what George Bowling, the protagonist of this novel, did escaping from a monotonous family life in some pointless London suburb to come back to the places of his childhood. It's just that I don't have an idyllic place to come back to.
So, it's mostly about memories, childhood memories, and the bitter but sharp reflections of a fatty man who lost his momentum. But there is also some devastating humour in this book and the foresight of the imminence of World War II.
Oh well, the whole list of the reasons why I liked Coming Up for Air may take too much time and far too many words to be done.
But let's add a last one: I now know the English names of a dozen river fish. I bet you were not expecting this bit of knowledge from a book by Orwell. Weren't you?