Book Review: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Image: Violet Daniels

Title: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Author: George Orwell

Publisher: Penguin, Modern Classics (2000/1936)

Rating: 5/5

I will never shut up about Orwell. Yes, it may seem kind of strange to be banging on about his writing so many years on; but his work will never not be relevant, regardless of the type of society we live in. Thus, I once again returned to reading some Orwell. This time, with a book which was published 84 years ago.

Synopsis

Gordon Comstock is disastrously unhappy. He’s a slave to an advertising industry that he despises. He is wasting his literary talents on an industry that he cannot morally support but is reaping the benefits for the sake of having a good job and monetary stability. However, Gordon soon realises that ploughing on with this goes against anything he stands for.

Gordon quits working at the advertising firm and instead spends his days being a bookseller, whilst trying to write. Every literary person’s dream, huh?

But the realities of living in self enforced deprivation soon take their toll. Living in such a futile, poverty stricken existence, soon sucks the life out of Gordon’s writing ambition. It begins to affect his relationship with wonderful Rosemary who he very much loves, and impacts his friendships.

The thing is, at the route of all success, whether that be family, romance, or friendships, is money. Having money gives you everything in a capitalist driven society. Gordon will have to somehow over come his natural opposition to this, if he is to maintain his relationship and devotion to Rosemary.

Gordon desperately did not want to become part of the capitalist, class stricken world that he found himself in, whilst working as a copywriter for an advertising industry. In trying to follow his heart and stick to his morals, he embarks on living in a world of self-inflicted squalor, poverty and pain. Within this, we see a vision into the world Orwell so despised, and the society in which he himself, did not feel part of.

Review

As soon as I had finished this, I knew instantly that it was my new favourite book, and possibly the best Orwell (so far) that I have read.

Others have dismissed this book as just pages of winging monologue, from a failed and depressed creative wannabe. However, I fully sympathized with the struggles and misfortune of Gordon Comstock and felt that the dialogue acted as an enlightening critique of the society that Orwell and many others were living through. This critique is timeless, as it can so readily be applied to our own society.

Fundamentally, Gordon was opposed to the idea of having money and the whole notion that society gives respect to those who have money and ‘stable’ jobs, above anything else. Even now, upon graduating, students are expected to have all these plans and to have secured graduate schemes before even having a chance to breathe after graduating. All for the sake of being able to tell someone your fancy job title and starting salary. After all, is money all there is? No, and this is precisely what this novel is about. It is a critique of the money driven society and individuals that succumb to its pull.

“Money, money, all is money!… Social failure, artistic failure, sexual failure – they are all the same. And lack of money is at the bottom of them all.”

In this book, is a character who tries to follow his principles and who is brave enough to stand against the societal norms he is enchained by. I sympathized with his struggle. To persevere with your own happiness, rather than reaping the benefits of an easy job, is a brave thing to do. Trying to make it as a writer, Gordon’s one true passion, was to take a massive leap in the dark.

However – this book is also an illustration of poverty, using London as an example. The vast difference between those who are in high paying jobs, and those who are struggling to make ends meet. Between those who are living in shared accommodation where the sheets are never free from bed bugs. To those who are living in bachelor pads on their own, that are big enough for a family of ten. As within all cities, there are the super thriving, and the people who are struggling every single day. It is a tale of how living in a city can be simultaneously the engine for creativity but also the architect of destruction when you are living in poverty.

“The bare floorboards had never been stained but were dark with dirt. In the cracks in the pink wallpaper dwelt multitudes of bugs; however, this was winter and they were torpid unless you over-warmed the room.”

I loved this book through and through. The political message is clear and ongoing, the struggle of poverty is brutally and honestly told, but the importance of being happy, self fulfilled and doing something we love is brought to the surface. Being a slave to capitalism will always have the potential to kill personal ambition – and that’s what is reiterated in this novel. Individuals must rise above its forces, by not becoming its slave.

Gordon resolves himself eventually from the cycle of poverty and goes back to his initial job due to the demands of certain circumstances (which I will not reveal as it will spoil the book!) but makes a definitive reservation to keep on writing, despite everything. He can recognise the wrath of capitalism and the drain it can have on his dreams, but he lets it go, and rises above it. Pure genius, as always.

“To abjure money is to abjure life.”

Is Instagram a force for good?

Image: Pinterest

Huddled in the dark, wrapped in my duvet cocoon, I used to spend my evenings in bed scrolling through Instagram. I would obsess over people I knew, people I didn’t know and form goals for the person I wanted to be, based on a snapshot of someone’s life. Simultaneously, I was aware that nothing on Instagram was the reality of peoples’ lives, but at the same time I used it to make comparisons about my own life and what I had achieved in that day.

Instagram works for some people, but it never quite worked for me. In all aspects of my life, I have the bad trait of comparing myself to others. Instagram, the platform that likes to sugar coat the daily lives of others around us, and the celebrities we ideolise, was thus, never a good use of my time. However, it took several years for me to realise that.

I used to love Instagram for being able to see parts of the world I haven’t yet explored; through travel accounts and immersive photography platforms. I also used to love it for cooking inspiration, art and fashion. Despite all its many uses, I have had to abandon it to prevent the comparisons I would always make – between their lives and my own. Comparison for me, has never helped me to achieve good mental health.

Additionally, in hindsight, I believe there is something dangerous about the platform. Either consciously, or subconsciously, it encourages us to boast about our lives, our clothes, our wealth and our fortune, whilst others can be left feeling as if they do not fit in with the culture it perpetuates. The more you have, it seems, the more you can post. Instagram and its culture of fostering “influencers,” bloggers and celebrities, pays homage to the tide of modern capitalism’s dream. Sponsored posts by those which we are infatuated by; bear the remnants of global capitalism and its longstanding legacy. We are encouraged to want and to buy.

But moreover, we are always encouraged to do things. To be constantly around people and then to boast about it. Instagram can be used as a platform to encourage certain conversations; about mental health, the environment and period poverty are to name just a few. But I feel that it is selective about the conversations it gives space to. It doesn’t talk about the social stigma that is still attached to loneliness, it is still a foreign social media phenomena to like being alone with yourself and to engage in simple things. It doesn’t allow for a simple, fulfilling life, this is something it will never be able to perpetuate.

It was a platform that I knew was not good for me in some ways, but one which I still used, partly because I felt compelled to. Everyone else uses it without a problem (or so it seems). I remember telling some people I had deleted it and them seeming genuinely shocked as they echoed, “but why” to my response. Well, this is exactly why.

I’m not saying this is what everyone should do – but it is something that has worked for me. I now spend most of my evenings huddled in bed with a book, which offers little room for me to form toxic, idealistic comparisons. But it is a way in which I can switch off from the real world, the blue screens and picture perfect lives of people I barely know.

Social media can be irrevocably useful and a tool for inspiration and connectivity. But it can also be a toxic one, showcasing picture perfect lives and the imaginary reality of daily lives which do not match up to our own.