DJ Taylor’s Orwell

DJ Taylor’s book Orwell: The Life won some prizes in 2004 but somehow passed me by, but has started cropping up in lots of places recently. Here’s an extract.  It entered my consciousness when I read “Another Piece of the Puzzle”, by DJ Taylor for my post on Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Then again when I read Taylor’s Orwellian take on the UK elections. It cropped up in this thoughtful post about how one is formed intellectually. And I came across his review of Peter Davison’s Orwell: A Life in Letters (via Ondalieve). Actually, he seems to have reviewed that twice for the Times but both reviews are worth reading.

What book changed your life? Orwell’s essays. It was Orwell’s voice that got me; it was like he was saying, “I wrote this for you.”

What is your daily writing routne? I take my children to the bus stop, walk the dog, eat breakfast and then I’m at my desk for 9.15am. I usually work all morning.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with? Christopher Hitchens. It would be jolly nice to have a full 20 minutes of “the Hitch” in full flow.

Can you remember the first novel you read? Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter. I was 12 or 13 years old.

And this is from a review of his new novel:

Taylor’s London has echoes of early Orwell, as well as the Priestley of Angel Pavement. He creates a wonderfully convincing world of cheap cigarettes, desperate respectability, casual anti-Semitism and dreary bedsitters.

It is a feature of Taylor’s journalism, in fact, that he mentions Orwell in more or less everything he writes. But that’s not a bad thing. On the late Alan Sillitoe:

George Orwell, writing in 1940, had maintained that if you looked for the working-classes in fiction, “and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole in the air”. In fact, this is a typical Orwell exaggeration, which ignores everything from George Gissing’s late-Victorian slum novels to James Hanley and the mass of short stories published in left-wing papers of the 1930s.

On surviving an election season:

Six or seven years ago, an unusually heavy parcel thumped on to the doormat. Torn open and unpacked, it turned out to contain a squat, gun-metal stapler – “Orwell’s stapler”, according to the friend who had bought it for me at a left-wing fundraiser, dating from his days as literary editor of Tribune.

On the tribes of the UK:

The urge to track political affiliations back to livelihood has deep historical roots. George Orwell, for example, once suggested – with apparent seriousness – that “all tobacconists are fascists”. Malcolm Muggeridge later wrote an amusing critique of this statement, starting with the premise that this was one of Orwell’s trademark unprovable assertions, but then getting gradually seduced by the effrontery of it, and concluding that, yes, there really was something rather strange about all those intent, brooding little men cooped up in their fag-lined hutches, and perhaps they were a legion of right-wing fantasists. No coincidence that Pierre-Marie Poujade, leader of the French political movement that bore his name, was a small shopkeeper. Somehow you doubt that there are many social groups whose members can still be characterised in this way, or even political parties where any kind of blanket unanimity prevails.

My pleasure in this gift took a knock a couple of months later when Alastair Campbell wrote a diary column in The Spectator celebrating his purchase, at a charity auction, of … Orwell’s stapler. Six months after that, the RMT union announced a similar event at which one of the principal lots would be … You guessed. No doubt Miss Nightingale’s lamp has been duly authenticated, but it would be nice if somebody checked.

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Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the link.

    Taylor’s book is worth reading, if one’s a fan of Orwelliana. Amusingly discursive: even fits in an “against” chapter.


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