Keep the Aspidistra FlyingI took advantage of several long drives to re-‘read’ George Orwell’s 1936 social commentary, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, very well read by Richard E. Grant. Orwell was later dismissive of this work, describing it as a potboiler written (ironically) for money and declaring himself to be ashamed of it. Yet Norman Mailer – no literary diplomat – described it as being ‘perfect from the first page to the last’. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. As I listened, I wondered at the rich observation and detail, and so was not surprised to discover that the miserable life of the novel’s protagonist, Gordon Comstock, was a thinly-veiled autobiographical portrait of Orwell at a time when he was odd-jobbing (including time at a book shop), living deliberately cheek-by-jowl, and setting off on tramping expeditions as research for his social and political commentary. I wonder what Orwell’s real-life wealthy patron, Sir Richard Rees, thought when he found himself depicted as Comstock’s faithful patron, Ravelston. Though the portrait is a not unsympathetic one, Comstock/Orwell’s resentment about his unearned comfortable living is increasingly fierce. Pace Mailer, the plotting is at times too obvious and the ending sits awkwardly with the dystopian tenor of much of the work. (Nowadays, I suspect Orwell would have let Comstock opt for his principles over his progeny.) But Orwell’s extraordinary descriptive skills are much to the fore and though the vocabulary may be dated the dialogue is very well done. The way Comstock resentfully bites the hands that feed him is particularly convincing. And Orwell’s presentiments of impending war were, alas, all too accurate.