by Stephen Tall on December 12, 2016
Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
This is the seventh book plucked from my #40booksby40 list.
I have a bit of a love-hate thing for The Other Mr Blair. Animal Farm was one of my GCSE English Lit set texts (along with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea), which simultaneously meant I studied it cover-to-cover while ensuring I’d never want to read it ever again. I also tried to read 1984 as a 13 year-old, in a silly teenage attempt to impress my English teacher, which, again, killed my enjoyment.
Orwell’s inclusion on my list is, therefore, partly to atone for spoiling him for myself; but it’s also why it’s the only non-fiction entry (I still can’t face another Orwell novel).
It’s a fun, pacy read. Which may not seem an apt description of a raw inside account of the Spanish civil war, but it’s true – for example, his detailed, fascinated description of being shot: “roughly speaking, it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion”.
It’s also at times genuinely funny, such as his affectionate swipe at Spanish mañana temperament: “Few Spaniards possess the damnable efficiency and consistency that a modern totalitarian state needs”.
And it includes a timeless motto, especially apt for our post-truth zeitgeist: “I warn everyone against my bias, and I warn everyone against my mistakes. Still, I have done my best to be honest.”
I’ll admit to skimming the chapters dedicated to acronym-heavy dissections of the leftist splits which caused Orwell such pain – his free-spirited revolutionary socialism was antithetical to the Stalinist communists, for all that they supposedly were on the same side. But the description of the mind-numbing boredom and futility of much of the ground-war is vividly authentic.
I’m still not up for another Orwell novel just yet. But I’ll happily give his journalism another go.