26 September 2016 2 Comments
Author: George Orwell
Summary: Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell’s timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today’s era of spin.
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5
Review: I loved this book. It actually took me by surprise how enormously i enjoyed it, but i loved this book. I picked it up recently on a whim as a last minute purchase from a secondhand bookshop, and started reading it on a train journey when it was the only book i had easily accessible. For an impulse purchase and a last resort read, this book impressed me spectacularly.
I excepted this to be a simple, easy read about Orwell’s motivations and techniques when it comes to writing. It was actually a lot more. In the first essay his focus is on the writing, including, as he sees it, the main motives for writing and the general disposition of any writer. That’s where the simple stuff that most people will expect ends, though. Right there on page 10. The remaining 110 pages are where things get interesting.
The second, and longest, essay is easily my favourite. Though i can see if you’re not a politically inclined Briton it might not strike with the same energy. Orwell describes Britain and British sentiment and nationality as a context for its politics, before diving right into the politics and the second world war (which was happening around him as he wrote). It is brilliant, and there is no doubt the points he’s making are still relevant today. I underlined a lot of quotes. Most that stuck as incredibly pertinent to current politics, others that were simply magnificent insults, and on the best occasions they were both!
I’ve never found myself quite so into politics. Of course, i keep up to date with what’s going on and have strong-to-vehement opinions on it all, but this was the first time i remember being truly engaged on the right level. I think it helps that Orwell comes at it from a good angle. That angle being it’s a fucking mess and a hell of a lot more needs to change than simply the party in power. He’s my kind of reasonable (which is to say, perhaps, not at all)–he’s equally insulting and fed up of it all. He’s not pushing for a particular agenda or trying to persuade anyone of anything, just stating the facts as he sees them, and his opinion on where and how things are fucked up and unfair.
I can’t quote all my underlining (at least not in this review…), but i’ll include one that speaks broadly to one of the larger issues:
“…no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives.”
The last essay focuses on politics in relation to language, and how meaningless speeches and literature can become when vague and inflated. A piece of writing that uses long words and fancy-sounding turns of phrase might seem impressive, but if you really pay attention to it, it isn’t saying anything at all. Seeing the examples Orwell gives, how he picks them apart, and comparing it to his own straight-forward way of writing really made me stop and consider my own writing style. (I’m feeling a little apprehensive about this review, to say the least!)
Some reviews i read from people who did not enjoy this book as thoroughly as I did claim it’s not about why Orwell writes, and I’m left wondering if they’ve ever read any of his other books. Animal Farm, 1984… politics is why he writes. Reading him talk in such an honest and straightforward manner about his political views was thrilling. Without the metaphors and refined prose of a fictional narrative Orwell is sharp, witty, and on point. I could have coped with this book being twice as long, honestly.