Before torturous semester 2 starts, on Tuesday (heh heh benefits of being an FASS kid is having the power to avoid Monday blues altogether by eliminating the source of the problem; lessons on devilish Mondays), here’s one last ditch attempt at a book review. Mind you, when I read an extremely well-written and inspiring novel, I have a lot of feels and opinions, which need to be quelled when I write them down into coherent sentences and paragraphs.
So this semester break, I embarked on an Orwellian journey again (seriously, NUS has to consider putting a module where we just read and analyze George Orwell’s books). I embarked on his road less travelled, on a book not many has heard/read before – Keep The Aspidistra Flying.
Ok so from what I’ve heard, he hated this work of his so much because he felt it was too flawed and the symbolism was too strong, so much so that he didn’t want to get it published initially. But I’m glad things didn’t go according to his wishes because this book was truly a remarkable read, regardless of the strong and heavy symbolism of aspidistras (maybe I’m just biased towards him but try to write like him la then we see kay.)
To start things off, I hate Gordon Comstock – the protagonist. I simply loathe, despise, detest, abhor him. I hate the fact that he despises the middle class men. I think he’s just stupid to declare “war against money” and renounce the whole pursuit of money altogether. Perhaps political science has made me very pragmatic/practical but I am in favour of the middle class men with their pursuit of money, albeit not to the point that it borders on excessive. Gordon Comstock just doesn’t buy the fact that an individual wants to lead a normal, mundane but decent lifestyle. He wants to be on the edge of poverty, he wants to abandon the money-grubbing world and just doesn’t want to lead a financially stable life by having a “good” job to put it simply.
He thinks that if one goes on a quest with money, they’ll surrender themselves to worshipping the money-god, and then they’ll become stripped of their individualism; their creativity; their accomplishments. They’ll become void of a person, so to speak. So he abandons his “good job” at an advertising company to work as a book assistant in a local bookstore, which earns just enough for him to scarcely get by.
However, here’s the genius plot twist – in a bid to escape the money world and lead life on scarce minimum wage – he ends up wishing for more money. He ends up worshipping money. He ends up being tormented by the prospect of not having enough money to meet his basic needs. In retrospect, it is deeply ironic and paradoxical that the very thing he chose to avoid now comes back to haunt him when he attempts to escape from what most desire to achieve. He falls into a self-inducing poverty cycle that just destroys his creativity, his enthusiasm and zest for life. He becomes “moth-eaten” and accomplishes close to nothing. He succumbs to the money-grubbing world when he doesn’t have enough of them to even get by decently.
I won’t tell you what happened in the end but I think one can guess the ending of the novel. One thing I find amazingly unique about George Orwell’s books is that he doesn’t give a happy ending to his stories (ok maybe that’s a little sadistic of me). He shows the protagonist succumbing to the norm; to the everyday social conventions that the society prescribed to them. They wanted to stand out, to be an unconforming member of the community, but they bitterly fail. And as the realities of the world have it, they become the very thing they desired to avoid, or the very person they used to hate so much, vowed to never become, in the end. I guess that’s why I feel he’s such an amazing writer; he doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat his readers with forced happy endings, he shows the reality of the world today. He shows how one individual cannot change generations of social conventions and norms. It takes everybody to bring about significant reforms to unspoken norms. An individual must be pragmatic to survive. They can’t live outside the norm to survive. They have to swallow it all in and learn how to live with it, coz that’s just the harsh reality of the world.
(Ok maybe now I know why I’m so critical and sometimes a bit grim at how I view things LOL)
But yes, I’ve read 3 books of his now (and counting, hopefully), and I’ve realized this pattern emerges in his books. It is both harrowing and a bit depressing, but that’s what I like about it. Because life is not always filled with happy endings. It also serves as a warning about a dystopian future looming over us if we continue on a downward spiral.
To encapsulate, this book celebrates the middle class and their moderate, non-excessive pursuit of money. Capitalism and socialism are both discussed in this novel. Money is the very thing that enables them to survive, and if they’re able to provide for themselves and their families, as well as lead a decent lifestyle with it, then it’s ok. And you should be ok with that. Your beliefs, principles and religion don’t necessarily have to be compromised to give way to the money-god.
“The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’ – kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do.”
Have a great 2016 everybody! Be kind, pragmatic and learn how to survive.