by George Orwell
Is the lucrative return of employment worth the awful tedium of spending your days at something you hate? Gordon Comstock doesn't think so. He turns down decent jobs and good opportunities, because they go against his principles, chooses instead to take a low-paying job in a bookshop and lives in a squalid rented room. He wants to make a living writing, but he isn't very good at it, and discovers that the woes of poverty (mainly hunger) make it harder and harder to concentrate on his poetry and write well. Sticking to his ideals, Gordon repeatedly refuses assistance from friends and family, sinking slowly deeper and deeper into poverty until he has to make a choice to survive. A job he doesn't want? or sticking true to his principles and creeping closer to starvation?
Keep the Aspidistra Flying is terribly depressing- for someone like me- an artist who failed to make a living at art. But it's also very witty, full of satire, which I half-missed the first time I read it. I was too stuck on the unhappy circumstance of Gordon- trying to do what he believed in, and getting mired in a downward spiral to the point of no return. A second reading provided more humor. Especially in the contrast of Gordon's friends- few in number- such as Ravelston, wealthy (but not happy with it) and his long-suffering girlfriend. Both sober and funny, this is one novel that I will not forget easily. It is interesting to compare this book to Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, which is semi-autobiographical account of the experience of poverty in said cities.
Side note: It must be prolific in English households (at least in Orwell's time), the aspidistra plant. Having a significant place in the title and also being very symbolic in the story. But I didn't know what it was and kept stumbling over the unfamiliar word. So to give my readers an idea (at least of its appearance) here are two old and very tacky book covers which feature the stubborn aspidistra. I don't like them, but they are illustrative, and so have a place here.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 248 pages, 1936