COMING UP FOR AIR
1939 (1st American edition 1950)
Unsigned notice, Times Literary Supplement
17 June 1939, p. 355
‘And yet I’ve enough sense to see that the old life we’re used to is being sawn off at the roots. I can feel it happening. I can see the war that’s coming and I can see the after-war, the food-queues and the secret police and the loud-speakers telling you what to think…. There are millions of others like me…. They can feel things cracking and collapsing under their feet. ’ Thus Fatty (George) Bowling, aged forty-five, an insurance salesman with a wife and two children. He earns between five and ten pounds a week, he lives—sleeps, that is —in one of two hundred identical semi-detached villas in a dormitory suburb of London, he eats at a Lyons’ tea-shop. He is the average sensual man, it seems, in an English world where the primordial reality is ‘an everlasting, frantic struggle to sell things. ’
Mr Orwell writes with hard, honest clarity and unswerving precision of feeling. This new novel of his, which is the history of Fatty Bowling as set down by himself, is controlled in passion, remorseless and entirely without frills. In its conversational and slangy way it makes the easiest sort of reading though there is as much direct comment on the state of the world as there is indirect story-telling. Is it quite a novel? Perhaps the answer is that, in Mr Orwell’s view, the novel we are used to is also being sawn off at the roots. No more dope or lollipops, no more wild-goose chases or saving of souls; all that has gone the way of the lost cities of Peru. For novelist or novel-reader what remains is the chance to get one’s nerve back before the bad times begin.
It is an essential point of the book that George Bowling is in no way an exceptional person. He says of himself that he fits in with his