Monday, October 24, 2016

Orwell's Nose: A Pathological Biography

John Sutherland
Reaktion Press 2016

‘but it was shot through by a sharper reek of sweat, which -one knew this at the first sniff, though it was hard to say how -was the sweat of some person not present at the moment.’

This book is a Quirky and Snarky Treat!
It is not like any other biography you will ever read, or likely will ever read. And, that is a great thing! Mr. Sutherland has managed to write an unforgettable picture of an unforgettable writer. Sutherland, who has permanently lost his sense of smell, examines Orwell's life tangentially; through his descriptions of the fascinating world around him.
Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) was an incredibly fascinating person, and unlike
most writers, he lived the lives that he wrote about.

'four frightful words...The lower-classes smell'-the Road to Wigan Pier

It turns out, after reading this book, you will never read him the same again. Oh what a sense of smell! Here are some examples:

'Poverty is spiritual halitosis'

"Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.'

I have read about half of Orwell’s books, and I'm working my way through the rest, and I must say that I hardly knew ye, Mr. Blair.

'Their[Burmese Women] slender flanks and pointed breasts... the odour of spices that clung to their satiny skins.

If Mr. Sutherland writes more biographies like this gem, say on Marx or Conrad, I'm in.

'The hallway smelt of smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats.'
[Victory Gin] 'It gave off a sickly, oily smell, as of Chinese rice-spirit.'

So many quotes, so little space. What I can say is that if you've only read 1984 and Animal Farm, you are missing out. If I could I would suggest 'Why I write', it's short and is all kinds of fantastic.

Socialism, at least in this island, does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of tyrants; it smells of crankishness, machine-worship, and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may win.