Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Last Man in Europe, by Dennis Glover

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Dennis Glover's debut novel, The Last Man in Europe, tackles the last fifteen years of George Orwell's life, culminating in the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It's hard to believe that George Orwell felt his great novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, not up to scratch. He hoped it would sell a mere 10,000 copies. Writing the novel had pretty much killed him. Orwell grievously neglected his health, allowing his tuberculosis to fester by exposing his lungs to the inhospitable and chilly winds of Jura, an island off Scotland. His doctor warned Orwell not to return to Jura, after having undergone a most arduous treatment. But Orwell ignored his doctor. The novel was the thing, and Jura the perfect place to write it.

Dennis Glover's The Last Man in Europe covers Orwell's life from 1935 until his death in 1950. The story opens with Orwell working in a bookshop and meeting his wife, Eileen. He is in the midst of writing Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a light comedy about an aspiring writer. The novel then progresses through other key periods in Orwell's life: the Spanish Civil War, his relationship with  H.G. Wells, the research he did for The Road to Wigan Pier and so on. One amusing section describes Orwell anonymously entering a bookshop to see how they'd displayed Animal Farm. After being told it was in the children's section, he surreptitiously picked up all the store's copies and placed them with the adult books.

All of this is a build up to the creation of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's a great tragedy for literature that by the time Orwell had figured a way to truly express himself, his health was in terminal decline. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written in a great race against death. Glover does a brilliant job of describing Orwell undergoing extremely painful treatment for his tuberculosis, also showing how these experiences directly influenced his work. His own downtrodden and weakened body, ravaged by disease, was a model for Winston Smith's undergoing torture in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Last Man in Europe perfectly captures Orwell's simple, no-nonsense writing style, his speech and the language of the times. Glover has skillfully pieced together Orwell's story from a careful reading of his books, essays, journalism, letters and diaries, creating a seamless whole.

Fans of Orwell will find much to enjoy in The Last Man in Europe, while those intrigued by Nineteen Eighty-Four and the man who created it will be rewarded with a novel that is a pleasure to read but also instructive about the personalities and politics of Britain in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Last Man in Europe, by Dennis Glover. Published by Black Inc. ISBN: 9781863959377 RRP: $29.99

Release date: 3rd July, 2017

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, featuring new releases, book reviews and favourite articles from around the web, click here.