Before the actual post from T.K. begins, I want to do a little introduction. T.K. and I actually went to school together, so I have known him for decades now (which is an astounding thing to say really). But I am so pleased he reached out to me and asked if he could write a book review of Keep the Aspidistra Flying for my blog because I have always respected his insight and critical perspective. I was thrilled when I found out his book choice since George Orwell was one of the first dystopian authors, if not the first, I ever read. So enough about me, on to the review!
“Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books and money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O Lord, give me money, only money.”
Such are the wishes of Gordon Comstock, protagonist to George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, published in 1936. Though better known for his dystopian parable, the writing Orwell display’s here deserves recognition on a platform with 1984. A story of artistic endeavor, the novel is a compelling read of status and society.
Pitiful and poor, Gordon is a poet living on the fringe. Rejecting the temptations of a bourgeoisie lifestyle, the poet struggles to develop his craft all the while making a name for himself in the London literary society. However, he finds himself constantly at ends with what he calls “the money world.” It is his obsession with money, in worship for and crusade against, that drives the narrative.
Gordon himself is not the most likable character. He is self-pitying, awkward, easily slighted, wretched, but worse of all, a welch. Despite the pleading of his sister Julia, Gordon refuses to take on a “good job,” one that would help pay the bills. Instead, he works at a second-hand bookshop, spending his days in resentful judgement of his customers. Still, he has redeeming qualities. Gordon has published a book of poems, Mice, which was well-received, but now he struggles to write his second. Regardless for his self-induced poverty, Gordon rejects offers from his friends or lover to pay for his meals [although he takes no issue grubbing off of his sister and family.] In the end, it is his pig-headed pride that ultimately leads Gordon down a darker road.
Much of Keep the Aspidistra Flying highlights the class dynamics of London society, and this is where the story is it’s most interesting. The poet often reflects on his own status, believing others to snub him, because he is poor. But while he is poor, he is not “really-poor.” Gordon is lower-middle class, and is conscious of the real poverty that lurks below him. In spite of his fear of living his whole life like this, he loathes the idea of a boring middle-class life, symbolized to him in the titular Aspidistra, a potted plant seen in every London window. Although he hates the idea of a boring life, he in turn imposes a dismal existence upon himself, making progressively worse and self-destructive decisions.
What developed Orwell into a world class author is his dry-observational style, pulling apart the structures society takes for granted. The author does an excellent job of identifying how status, or lack there-of, weighs on the mind. Clear-cut inspection of London life is tempered with sardonic British humor. The plot itself is not, in and of itself, particularly interesting, nor is Gordon as a character. The supporting cast is also at times a little flat, and the recurring theme of money can become redundant.
Despite these failings, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a worthwhile read. Orwell has been called “the conscious of society,” and this is particularly true here. The author’s ability to cut the uncomfortable truths for the world to see give a philosophical air to the novel, and provide a stirring allegory of the starving artist.
Go visit his website here!
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