Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

George Orwell; Keep the Aspidistra Flying

When we think of Orwell, two important literary works spring to mind. His name conjures images of dystopian societies, inherent corruption of political regimes and a characteristically satirical style which forges strong emotional connections between the reader and the book. ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ differs from these with the central concern of the book being that of human nature and the individual. Its themes, while overtly political at times, are bound up with ideas relating to economy, and the repercussions of economy on the individual. Satire is not absent, but can be recognised only through the development of the book where we grow to transform our opinions of Gordon Comstock, the loathsome but loveable (depending on the chapter) protagonist.

‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ was reputedly a work of which George Orwell himself was ashamed, later defending it’s publication as an event which was catalysed by pure poverty and need.

This book urged me to ask some vital questions, such as; to what degree are our political ideals fashioned by our own economic status? Is every socialist in a liberal society a hypocrite because he thrives on the wealth of a political policy that he has been so unsuccessful in demolishing? Does poverty inherently breed greed and crime? To what degree can we separate our identity from our bank accounts? What is more unappealing; a man who makes money or money that makes a man?

As we watch the protagonist reject the ‘nine to five’ way in attempt to pursue a more humble lifestyle where he can consider himself an artist rather than someone defined by a ‘respectable job’, we see his creativity and vigour for life (crucial to anyone, but mostly the artist) fade away with his will to write. This book serves as a dreary reminder that almost all of our physical and psychological instincts can, in modern society, only be satiated through the acquisition of money. Whether or not our generation can recognise the symbolic importance of the recurrent ‘Aspidistra’ motif throughout the novel, we can be certain that the books basic premise is as timeless as his others; whether it’s a hearty lunch with friends, a place to live or a good book; love it or loathe it; it all comes down to money.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys novels infused with political commentary, anyone who’s wealthy or poor and all starving artists and students. If you enjoyed ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ (Orwell), you are bound to enjoy this impartial narrative even more.

Reviewed by Tammy

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