Coming Up For Air by George Orwell
Genre: fiction, classic
ISBN - 10: 0156196255
Coming Up For Air by George Orwell is unlike any other novel I have read. It is about a man whose life changed after World War I. One day brings back countless memories of his past - the days when he used to fish, his first girlfriend, World War I, the times when he read, his father's unsuccessful seeds business, the time when his older brother ran away etc. The protagonist finally goes back to the town that he once lived in, and finds that whatever he recalled from his memory has changed. It was the ending that gave me a shock.
The novel was difficult to relate to, and hard to read at times (especially when the protagonist goes in depth about the subject of fishing) but will be one that I shall remember for a long time. The story is written as though the protagonist is speaking to the reader.
I was really impressed with the following lines:
"I'm fat, but I'm thin inside. Has it ever struck you that there's a thin man inside every fat man, just as they say there's a statue inside every block of stone?" (24)
The story starts with George Bowling, 45, a fat middle-aged insurance salesman going to get his new false teeth. Bowling is married with two children but is quite unhappy with his family. He sometimes feels like strangling his wife, Hilda, because she is always worrying about stupid things, such as the price of butter. If he had known about the thoughts of the class of people that Hilda came from, the poverty-striken officer class of an Anglo-Indian family, he would not have married her. After getting married, Hilda was ready for middle-age to hit her.
Reading a poster regarding King Zog, reminds Bowling of a biblical character, and so his Sundays at church as a child. Little by little during his day, he goes into different aspects of his past.
With the smell of dung, after so long, he recalls his parents, and his father's business in Lower Binfield. He is glad that his father died before going out of business because of the new large store that opened up as the new seeds merchant. His father was unwilling to change his ways in his business.
As a youth, Bowling was fond of fishing. He could spend his entire day fishing. One time he witnessed huge fish in a forgotten pond. The fishing rod he had with him wasn't strong enough to catch the fish of such a grand size. He decided that he would earn money to buy a rod strong enough. After that, he stops fishing, and his life moves on. He meets a girl, and then the war starts. That was the last time he fished. Bowling still wonders if those fish in that forgotten pond would still be there waiting for him to catch them.
In the beginning, Bowling bets on a horse race, using someone’s theory of the colour that the rider wears and the day. He wins a considerable sum of money and wonders what to do with it. He wants to spend it on a woman, but after spending the day recalling his past, he decides to go back to Lower Binfield.
After getting a week off of work and lying to his wife to that he had to go on a business trip, Bowling drives to Lower Binfield and finds the place quite unrecognizable. The small town is now filled with so many people. No one that he once knew seems to be still alive or living there. He feels like telling someone about the town that he once used to know, of the old Lower Binfield, but decides that no one would be interested in the talks of an old man. Nobody remembers his last name, Bowling, which was that of the old families that used to live in the town. He visits the graves of his parents and spends a considerable amount of time going through the town and trying to recall everything that has changed.
Finally, he does meet two people that he once knew - a priest and his old girlfriend. Neither of the two recognize him, and he does not bother to tell either who he is. He is disappointed to see that his old girlfriend's appearance has changed for the worse and she no longer possesses any of the qualities he once admired.
Bowling buys a fishing rod and hooks large enough to catch the huge carps from his memory. However, when he goes to the spot that they were, it has become a dump.
After a bomb lands on Lower Binfield, and Bowling hears a radio announcement about Mrs. Bowling being very sick, he leaves his fishing equipment in his hotel room and goes back home.
Bowling regrets going to Lower Binfield - his memory of his past, of the pleasant days before the war, of his town, of the grand fish that he was to catch that could have been waiting for him have shattered. The ending that shocks me is that Bowling goes back to his home, and lives as he always has.