George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

47.

Margery Allingham, Time and Tide

24 June 1939, p. 839

Margery Allingham (1904-66), author of detective novels. Dorothea Canfield’s novel, Seasoned Timber, was also reviewed.

Coming up for Air is another careful study of a single character, but George Bowling, Mr Orwell’s insurance inspector, is a very different person from Miss Canfield’s schoolmaster. They are both defeated men who realize the fact and do not see what there is to do about it, but Bowling is not sorry for himself, and if his author pities him he has the kindliness to hide it.

George is not a hero. He is fat, red faced, middle class and honestly vulgar; not so much the salt of the earth as the bread and cheese and beer of it. His wife is a misery, and his children irritate him when they do not stir up in him a primitive affection and wonderment which embarrasses as well as satisfies him. The book opens with George wondering what it would be best to do with a windfall of seventeen pounds, the existence of which he has not confessed to anyone. It goes on to describe how he ultimately spends it on a sentimental pilgrimage to the home of his boyhood and shows the disillusion which awaited him there. However, that is not all. George’s entire life is presented in this short space. We see how and why he became what he is and we receive a pretty good hint of what he will become. This is a fine book, fair comment on one aspect of life today and a sincere picture of the younger ex-Service man dubiously looking into a future which seems even less promising than the past. My only regret is that the story was written in the first person. This device, although it has the important virtue of making the narrative clear and easy to read, tends to falsify the character slightly since George’s uncanny perception where his own failings are concerned makes him a little less of the ordinary mortal which his behaviour would show him to be.

-154-

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