This book has largely been ignored and forgotten by anyone outside of the few with a passion for Orwell’s work. And Orwell himself would have had it so. He wrote, once his circumstances were a bit more secure due to the success of certain other novels (much more well-known) about a decade after the book was first published, that he had been forced by a need for money to publish this book and had regretted allowing its publication ever since. He had written it, he said, not for publication but as a sort of experiment in style. This admission on his part, however, is, I believe, a fine indicator of why it is as good of a book as it is and why it is truly an injustice to Orwell and to the book itself that it remains so little known and read today.
The experimental style of the book does nothing to make for a compelling story. If you are looking for the fine-tuned plot and provocative storytelling of Orwell’s more famous works, you are looking in the wrong place. If you are looking for a book that grants a great deal of personal insight into one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th century, though, this is a book not to be missed.
That Orwell did not intend the book for publication no doubt allowed him to place within it a greater amount of personal reflection than he allowed into his more manicured works. Within the novel, for example, Dorothy, the primary protagonist, is dragged by circumstance through a number of situations which Orwell himself had experienced in his early days as a writer, including homelessness, teaching at a school for the children of working class Londoners, and losing his faith even while insisting that he must maintain the pious practice thereof in order not to fall into nihilism. All of these are things that Orwell experienced and which certainly shaped the beliefs and ideas that led him eventually to write his two most famous novels several years later. Here one is treated to a more direct reflection about these experiences, a reflection which will allow one to read Orwell’s later works with a much greater insight.
I recommend this book, first, as good literature. Again, the story itself is not especially interesting or compelling but the individual incidents within the wider narrative are each fascinating in their own right. I recommend this book especially to anyone who has enjoyed the other great works of Orwell and desires a greater insight into this literary mind and the forces that shaped it.