Tag Archives: George Orwell

Retail (And Reading) Therapy

When an unpleasant task must be performed, or an unpleasant journey must be undertaken my thoughts turn to retail therapy.  This seems to be a trait common to many members of my benighted generation.

Unlike, I suspect, many members of my benighted generation, my idea of really good, truly satisfying and utterly enriching retail therapy occurs only when I’m on my knees (careful…) sifting through piles of books in op-shops. Continue reading

Complete Works

In the middle of last year, I began hunting down second-hand copies of The Complete Works of George Orwell.  I use the word copies advisedly, because the complete Orwell consists of twenty tomes: nine novels and eleven volumes of collected letters, essays, journalism and fascinatingly varied jottings.

Twenty volumes.  Over eight thousand, five hundred pages in total.  And the fruit of seventeen years of hard graft by its editor, Peter Davison. Continue reading

Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading

A Bookish Nation

Determining the literary vitality of a country like Australia is a difficult task.  This difficulty, it seems to me, is closely linked to the impossibility of defining ‘Australian Culture’, or ‘Australian Values’.  Inevitably such discussions get bogged down in witless abstractions like mateship, and from there it’s not a long time before meat pies, Steve Irwin, Crocodile Dundee and beer work their way into the conversation.  We’re a nation on the make, and we still don’t know quite what we’re making.

In 2002, Clive James delivered the inaugural David Scott Mitchell Memorial Lecture.  The lecture is well worth reading, and well worth listening to, as are nearly all the things that James has written and said in his long and bewilderingly varied career.  Clive James is important to my point.  James is the Kid from Kogarah – he’s one of ours: an Australian product. Continue reading

The Torn Fishnets Of Ron Rash

If you like Wilbur Smith, chances are you’ll be partial to Ron Rash also.  But if you’re partial to either of these writers then, frankly, you’re partial to trash.

Serena is, unsurprisingly, the story of Serena – a tough-as-old-boots orphan who has married Pemberton, the owner of a saw-mill in depression-era America.  When Serena isn’t proving that she’s the equal of any man, it’s a fair bet that you’ll find her hunting, or training an eagle, or ‘coupling’ with her husband.

That’s right: ‘coupling’.  Rash seems to be quite fond of this verb – he must be, or he wouldn’t use it so often. Continue reading

Adams’ Apples

Who wrote this?

“We notice things that don’t work.  We don’t notice things that do.  We notice computers, we don’t notice pennies.  We notice e-book readers, we don’t notice books.”

It could almost be George Orwell.  It’s just about tight and sharp enough and it’s got something of the Orwell sense of balance and lissomness… but Orwell didn’t live to encounter computers, let alone e-book readers, and I can’t quite see him scribbling down ‘pennies’.

It was Douglas Adams.

Or this:

“In the old Soviet Union they used to say that anything that wasn’t forbidden was compulsory; the trick was to remember which was which.”

Now that could have been Clive James.  It’s politically astute, aphoristic and it all turns on the final clause: a neat colloquial noun and the fine consonant resonance of the final three words.  It contains at least two little turns that James learned from Orwell (and improved upon) – and I think James would be the first to admit it.

But it was Douglas Adams. Continue reading