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Coming Up for Air

Coming Up for Air is a novel by George Orwell, published before World War II and predicting that conflict. It is written in the first person, with George Bowling, the 45-year-old protagonist, telling the reader his life story.

The social and material changes experienced by Bowling since childhood make his past seem as distant as the biblical character Og King of Bashan, a mention of whom triggers Bowling's 'trip down memory lane'. Orwell was very pessimistic. However the character expresses a nostalgic melancholy of some tenderness. The novel presents an absorbingly realistic evocation of what we now call "a mid-life crisis".

What is most striking is not so much that Orwell predicted the start of the second world war, which was becoming expected, but that he foresaw the transformation of society which that would bring about. Indeed, just a few years after the publication of this book, pre-war England was as distant and unreachable as George Bowling's childhood.

The themes of the book are nostalgia, the futility of trying to go back and recapture past glories and how easy it is for the dreams and aspirations of teenage years to get bogged down in the humdrum routine of work, marriage and getting older. George Bowling is not a very sympathtic character - he is a fat, middle-aged insurance salesman who doesn't like his wife or children very much and who would betray what few principles he has for a couple of pints or a good night out with a hooker. What is exceptional about this book is that at no stage do you sense that the author is preaching to you through the characters in the book. The book consists of the thoughts and disasters of George Bowling - not George Orwell.

Orwell wrote it while spending six months in Morocco.

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