Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell – 1936 Club

 Pigeon Post cover

The 1936 Club is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

I was really happy to see that Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell had been published in 1936 because it’s one of his books that I hadn’t got around to reading. However, I found it to be quite a depressing read although it’s obviously well written.

Gordon Compstock is a 29 year old poet, he has already had a volume of poetry published, but he doesn’t realise that it was really his wealthy friend Ravelston who was instrumental in getting it published, only 153 copies were sold. He had previously had a ‘good’ job in an advertising agency but had given it up as he hated the whole industry. His boss says he can come back if he changes his mind, but Gordon really doesn’t want to be part of the rat-race and commercialism.

His job in a second-hand bookshop fits in with his ideals, but he’s earning a lot less than he was and living in deep poverty, often not having anything to eat all day, especially towards the end of the week as his money has run out. He has had to ‘borrow’ money from his much older sister Julia, despite the fact that she’s really poor herself and works in a tea-shop. She has been brought up to put her brother first though, being the son of the family has meant that all the family’s efforts have been put into him, including a private education which might have been a big mistake as his schoolfellows realise he’s poor – and boys will be boys.

He has been in love with Rosemary for two years, but rarely sees her due to a lack of money. He won’t have Rosemary paying her half of any outings or meals out, that would be too shameful to him. They can’t visit each other in their rooms as their landladies don’t allow that. With his decent clothes in the pawn shop people avoid him, thinking he’s a tramp. As it’s the Depression there are plenty such about. Gordon almost wishes that there would be another war.

Gordon squinted up at the leaden sky. Those aeroplanes are coming.In imagination he saw them coming now; squadron after squadron, innumerable, darkening the sky like clouds of gnats. With his tongue not quite against his teeth he made a buzzing, bluebottle-on-the-window-pane sound to represent the humming of the aeroplanes. It was a sound which, at that moment, he ardently desired to hear.

He lives in hope of getting a cheque from a publisher that he has sent poems to and when an American magazine does send him $50 for a poem Gordon is ecstatic. The dollars equate to £10 and some shillings!! Gordon promises himself that he will keep £5 of it to give to Julia but he ends up going on a disastrous boozy bender and ends up in clink overnight.

Like many an artist before him Gordon realises that he can’t afford his scruples, it’s time for him to grow up and earn his £5 a week and join the rest of society. He even decides he must get an aspidistra, they seem to haunt him! They were apparently the mark of a respectable and aspirational middle-class life. Rosemary isn’t convinced.

Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders. He had kept up his rebellion a little longer than most, that was all.

It would seem that this is a very autobiographical novel which is really sad as presumably some of the humiliating situations that Gordon experienced actually happened, or Orwell observed.

1936 club

Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley – The 1930 Club

Angel Pavement cover

I read Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley for The 1930 Club. It was only the second book by Priestley that I had read, the first being The Good Companions and although I didn’t love Angel Pavement as much as that one I did like it. Angel Pavement is a small cul de sac in London, it seems to be fictional although there is now such a place in Royston, Hertfordshire, presumably named after the book.

The setting is London during the depression, work is difficult to come by, it’s very hard for ordinary people to make ends meet and everyone lives in fear of losing their job. Businesses are just scraping along too and hoping for an upturn, so as you can see in getting on for 100 years – not much has changed.

The book begins with Mr Golspie sailing into London on a ship that he boarded in the Baltic. He’s originally a Londoner and seeing the city in the distance he wonders why he ever left. He’s not the sort of man who has to worry about getting work, he has the gift of the gab, is super confident and knows how to reel a certain type of person in with his talk of wonderful success to come. He intends to make money by selling wood veneers, something that he has learned about while living in the Baltic areas. When Golspie talks his way into a job at Twigg and Dersingham which is an old established firm run by a rather feckless second generation in the shape of Mr Dersingham who until Gospie arrived has been worrying about the state of his business. When the orders for veneers start piling in Dersingham swallows his reservations about Golspie’s character although Mrs Dersingham will have nothing to do with Golspie.

Priestley lets the reader look into the lives of everyone in the company’s office, from the dogsbody lad to the office manager. They all have their problems and they’re often the same problems that people and families have nowadays.

Priestley was a master at writing dialogue in different dialects, something which can’t be at all easy to do and his descriptions and observations on the human condition are so well observed. This book is darker and more depressing that Good Companions if I’m recalling correctly, but apparently it is judged to be better than that very popular earlier book. I’m in need of something more uplifting at the moment though – who isn’t I ask myself?! The passage below struck me as being exactly how I’ve felt when flicking through some of those glossy lifestyle magazines, minus the need for a cigarette of course. I never know who any of those so-called celebrities are anyway.

Miss Matfield went into the lounge, to smoke a cigarette, and spent an envious ten minutes glancing through one of those illustrated weeklies that seem to be produced simply to glorify that small section of society which works only to keep itself amused. It showed her photographs of these demigods and goddesses racing and hunting in the cold places, bathing and lounging in the warm places, and eating and drinking and swaggering in places of every temperature. By the time she finished her cigarette Miss Matfield quite understood the temptation to start a revolution, and told herself that these papers simply asked for one.

I read this one for The 1930 Club.

1930 club

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor

Bleeding Heart Square cover

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor was first published in 2008. I think it’s the third book by the author that I’ve read but it’s probably the one that I’ve liked least although I would give it a 3.5. I was quite disappointed by the ending because for me it left a lot of trailing threads and I thought maybe there was a sequel to it – but apparently not.

The setting is London in 1934, a time of social upheaval with Fascists rearing their ugly heads. Lydia Langstone’s wealthy husband Marcus has become involved with the Fascists, as so many of the upper class did, he’s hoping to get a top job within the organisation – well he would get an even better uniform to wear! But when Marcus attacks Lydia in a fit of pique she wastes no time in getting out of the house, reasoning that anywhere will be better than staying at home to be knocked about by a brutish husband.

Life in poverty is a shock for Lydia and people seem to think she’s just playing at being poor when they hear her cut-glass accent, but she has no option but to stay in a cheap boarding house where there are some strange people and goings on and Lydia becomes involved in what turns out to be a murder mystery.

I think that Andrew Taylor managed to conjure up the atmosphere of 1930s London, with Sir Oswald Mosley’s thugs attacking people who happened not to agree with them. Remind you of anyone?

I borrowed this one from the library and also The Scent of Death by the same author so I’ll be getting to that one soon.