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Coming Up for Air

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  11,272 ratings  ·  743 reviews
George Bowling, the hero of Orwell's comic novel, is a middle-aged insurance salesman who lives in an average English suburban row house with a wife and two children. One day, after winning some money from a bet, he goes back to the village where he grew up, to fish for carp in a pool he remembers from thirty years before. The pool, alas, is gone, the village has changed ...more
Paperback, 278 pages
Published October 22nd 1969 by Mariner Books (first published June 12th 1939)
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Ian Mapp Just a clever way of closing the book and leave the reader or a book club much to consider about which of the three options he would take. I can only…moreJust a clever way of closing the book and leave the reader or a book club much to consider about which of the three options he would take. I can only hope its not number 2 and suggesting a memory lapse.(less)
Eric Orwell has a very sharp sense of humor: it's just so damn black and cynical that it can be hard to call this a comedy, in the true sense. But the…moreOrwell has a very sharp sense of humor: it's just so damn black and cynical that it can be hard to call this a comedy, in the true sense. But the one-liners are here, the dry British sensibility, and most of all: the nostalgia! That just flows off the page and Orwell weaponizes it beautifully: all the humor and nostalgic yearning for the past dies in the realization that, yes, fascism is inevitable. (less)

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Average rating 3.79  · 
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Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I`ve read the book Coming Up for Air written by George Orwell. He was a British author who`s native born name is Eric Arthur Blair. He lived from (*1903 to 1950). Orwell`s book is a tragedy which is combined with a lot of humour. It`s not only based on the historical events of this story, but also based on incredible aphorisms which consequently motivates the reader to deal with the details and messages. Its a very personal book which broaches the issue of a normal childhood combined with the ...more
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comic-novels
One of Orwells less well known novels; it is a rather bleak comic novel written and set in 1938/1939. It is a well written novel about nostalgia, the lower middle classes, relationships between men and women and middle age. Orwell is primarily a political writer and as he said himself, Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. Given works like 1984 and Animal Farm, it isnt surprising ...more
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
That's the way we're going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else.
George Orwell, Coming Up for Air


A novel that explores the pastoral life and experiences of youth in Edwardian England before the First World War as a memory of a man who is anxious about his own existence and pessimistic about his nation's inevitable progress towards another world war.

I think John Wain was right when he said, "What makes _Coming Up For Air_ so peculiarly bitter to the
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it

If Orwell had ever divided his books between "entertainments" and serious works, as Graham Greene did, I assume he would have classified Coming Up for Air (1939) as the former, but it's still a fascinating window into the pre-war anxiety experienced by ordinary people in England. When George Bowling finds himself glancing worriedly at the sky on his way to work, his thoughts seem to be picking up directly from Orwell's previous book, Homage to Catalonia, which ends with Orwell contemplating "the
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I recently read Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton and that kickstarted a whole fascination with English literature set in or around London c1939. In addition to Hangover Square, particular recent highlights include...

London Belongs to Me
The Slaves of Solitude
Of Love And Hunger's a rich vein that I continue to mine.

'Coming Up For Air' was my first George Orwell since 'Homage to Catalonia' a few years back (whilst preoccupied with books about the Spanish Civil War). I'd also read '1984'
Alice Poon
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
As with Orwells other books, I loved his endearing trademark of dry wit and humor in his powerful storytelling. This novel would probably resonate with anyone who has ever experienced an urge for an escapist indulgence. I would have given this book five stars had it not been for the description of wicked little boys killing baby birds for fun.

This is a story about a middle-aged man trying to find an escape from boredom, fear and anxieties about aging, impending disaster and existence in general.
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Note on the Text

--Coming Up for Air
I didnt really know what to expect when I picked up Coming Up for Air. I knew it wouldnt be the scathing allegory that is Animal Farm and I knew it wouldnt be the terrifying dystopia of 1984. I wasnt sure what Orwell would do with the story of a middle-aged man who is frustrated with his empty suburban life, as the world moves inexorably towards World War II. I think I had forgotten how beautiful his prose was, and how he had this uncanny inability to capture feelings and thoughts and put them ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
When I first had a look at this, I wondered if it was really by the same George Orwell. It certainly didn't seem to be anything like 1984 or Animal Farm. But it was indeed he. I spent most of the book wondering if anything was actually going to happen in this story. And nothing really did. I hated it at first, but for some reason I kept coming back to it. It grew on me.

The protagonist, a fat and rather unlikeable father of two named George Bowling, leads a rather boring middle-class existence in
MJ Nicholls
Released in 1939, Coming Up for Air is perhaps the final kiss-of-death to pre-war life in miserable old England, and the first ready-for-war book to soberly embrace the next six agonising years. The protagonist George is a First World War veteran whose life has settled into the predetermined routine of people of his class and agea travelling insurance position, a nagging harridan of a missus, and two kids too many. After kvetching about his sorry lot in Part One, he recalls his childhood in Part ...more
Mar 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Coming Up For Air is written in the first person as George Bowling, although George Orwell doesn't take long to break out in the first 30 pages with his own social critique on housing estates 'rackets' & developers etc. It took me a while to warm to George Bowling's 'voice' as the narrator.

Part II is a change in conversation from Part I. Part II starts off with George Bowling realising how much his life has changed since he was a young lad. Then for the next 93 pages George is reminiscing on
Jun 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle

George Orwell had a way of grabbing the readers attention with opening sentences. The first sentence of 1984, for example, has stuck in my mind since I first read the novel over forty years ago: It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. The first sentence of this novel is just as memorable: The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth. If the opening of 1984 foreshadows the dystopia in which that novel is set, the opening of this one suggests the work
Coming Up for Air was written whilst Orwell was convalescing in Morocco in 1938, which would be a year after he returned from Spain in 1937, due to his tuberculosis which would hinder him until his death in 1950 (his convalescence didn't have much success apparently). Whilst not his most political novel (say, compared to his later works), still has quite an insightful aspect regarding life in Britain for the Lower Middle Class on the eve of a coming global cataclysm that everyone expects - and ...more
I usually don't like books written in first person but sometimes authors who write that way do grab my attention and it's an enjoyable read. Sadly this book didn't grab my attention. Humorous to a degree and that's why I rated the book three ⭐⭐⭐'s. ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is my fifth Orwell and the one I liked the most, so far.
I reckon how I should reread (and in English at this time) both "1984" and "Animal Farm" before putting "Coming Up for Air" on top, but at the moment it stands there.

So why have I liked this novel so much?
Oh, there are several and kind of personal reasons.

To begin with, I had the chance to spend some time in the tiny village of Sutton Courtenay where Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell rests. Sutton Courtenay is just a
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. I rarely connect on multiply levels with characters in books, but I have a huge connection with Tubby Bowling. I see myself in him, or I should say I could see my life going down his path, because he is disappointed with his life and where is at. He had a lot of big dreams but they all fell one by one to end as an insurance salesman with a decent house in suburbia and a disliked family. This is one of Orwell's forgotten masterpieces in that few look beyond his 1984 or ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Loved it, just loved it. Orwell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Love his humour, wit and sarcasm. Lovely story about nostalgia which I would definitely read again.
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Well now, this is what I call an interesting book. Orwell is one of my favorite authors. I think pretty much everything he wrote is worth reading but there is so much complexity to this novel. The first thing I thought was the fact that you could see 1984 & Animal Farm coming reading that book. The brilliant thing about his writing is that Orwell has such a sharp wit, he is an intellectual and his satire makes everything better. What I didnt like about Coming Up for Air was the ryhtm. Even ...more
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
The best of Orwells pre-war novels. It also seems the most his own. Burmese Days apes Somerset Maugham; A Clergymans Daughter apes Joyce; Keep the Aspidistra Flying apes Gissing. But Coming up for Air apes no one. Orwell seems to finally realise the crisp, colloquial tone of his essays and non-fiction is the way forward. There is no feeling of the author getting up on stilts. For the first time - in the novels - the voice is as natural and easy as breathing. It helps that George Fatty Bowling is ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Different from Orwell's other books but also brilliant.
Lee Foust
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
After listening to a terrific audio book version of Animal Farm on youtube, I found an even more delightful audio book version of this other Orwellian novel and enjoyed the heck out of it--an Australian actor reads it, I believe, judging from his pronunciation of the word "kids." Listening rather than reading may have caused me to pass over some of the more darkly ironic bits (judging from the other reviews here)--also the reader is just so convincing! (It's difficult to laugh at someone when ...more
Hafizz Nasri
This started with so much irritating incidents that I was a bit reluctant in furthering my read cause it seems so 'messy' and harsh. It came with four parts, more like stages of how George Bowling starting to have an idea on how to escape his dreary boring life, the point of how it all started. An intro of his family and annoying kids, an insurance salesman job and burden of so much hell he feels like suffocating and while thinking about having his new false teeth and extra quid on his account, ...more
Eve Kay
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"The past is a curious thing. It's with you all the time. I suppose an hour never passes without your thinking of things that happened ten or twenty years ago, and yet most of the time it's got no reality --"

In very short the story is about a man who leads a very ordinary, quite dull, existence in 1939 England. He looks back on his childhood and takes a trip to where he grew up to reminiscence.

Compared to his other works, yes, it's not his best. But in comparison to other authors, Orwell has the
Graeme Roberts
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read Coming Up for Air in about 1966, and it immediately became my favorite high school English book. I enjoyed it much more now. I can't imagine that I understood too much of it when I was fifteen, but I did love the vivid descriptions, the sense of English life before the Great War, and the character of George Bowling. I decided, on his advice, that life probably is a bitch well before I had the experience to know.

My copy, marked five shillings and sixpence, is obviously newer than the
Ian Mapp
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit-fict, humour
Genuinely cannot believe that an 80 year old book, set on the eve of the WWII, concerning a middle aged man having an existential crisis, is still valid today. But it is in spades.

This book is perfect.

George is 45, married in suburbia with two kids and a wife he dislikes but cannot imagine living without. He's a travelling insurance man - middle class, middle earning, middle of the road. The only thing that marks him out is his weight. He's healthy but tubby.

He wins £17 through an illicit bet
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
From BBC Radio 4:
Episode 1 of 2

An overweight, married, middle-aged insurance salesman surveys his life while reflecting on the country he finds himself living in. George Orwell's novel is read by Tim McInnerny.

Written in 1939, Coming Up For Air was published just before the outbreak of the Second World War and offers premonitions of the impending conflict with images of an idyllic Thames-side Edwardian-era childhood at the same time as taking a rather dim view of capitalism and its effects on
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I think I need to start this review with an apology to George Orwell because like many people, I read Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four as a teenager and assumed I'd read everything by Orwell that was worth reading. I was obviously wrong because Coming Up for Air is a great book, though very different from his two most famous novels. In a way, though, I'm glad I've waited until now to read it because I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much when I was younger.

Coming Up for Air was
Fraser Kinnear
I didn't expect this to be such a funny book. It was funny to the degree that you can expect any old writer to be funny - the writing was sharp, and the narrator was oafish with some funny lines.

The protagonist, a fat, bumbling, middle class Englishman came across as a dark version of Oliver Hardy. Full disclosure, I've never seen Laurel and Hardy, and they may be just as dark for all I know.

The story also put into words my distaste for the empty, "middling" class, powerless but informed rut so
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk-author, fiction, uk, 4-star
Narrated by George Bowling, a man in his late 40s, living in the suburbs with a wife and two children, with an unexciting but stable white collar job, this is a book of reminiscences and a nostalgic look back over his life. Overweight, and with false teeth,George is a first world war veteran, now working in insurance, travelling regularly in an escape from his wife and children.

Set in the pre WWII early 1940s, this book takes us through the life of George Bowling, as a child and adolescent
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
My fourth installment of George Orwell started remarkably well with the self-deprecating humour of the middle aged fat male character and his funny (if misogynistic but then again they were in character) insights into middle-class married life and the quintessential mid-life crisis but unfortunately the amount of tedious detail and description of the childhood (especially the fishing) episodes and the in-depth characterisation of bleak childhood and family portraits killed the momentum and by ...more
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Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

In addition to his literary career Orwell served as a police officer with the Indian Imperial

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