A unique mix of biography, journalism, politics and nature writing, this is a very thought-provoking book. I found the content repetitive sometimes and the writing style was occasionally dry, but I appreciated having a new perspective on George Orwell, the context in which he wrote and how his work resonates today.
Rebecca Solnit visits the cottage in Wallington where Orwell used to live and where he cultivated roses, along with many other plants. She explores what the garden and the outdoors meant to him, finding evidence in his writing, particularly Nineteen Eighty-Four. The biographical element is generally linear, with many discussions in between which aren’t necessarily about Orwell or roses but are linked to them. Topics include the disconnect between the consumers and the producers (including a visit to a rose bouquet factory in Colombia where there is more ugliness than beauty), climate change, colonialism, slavery and Stalinist Russia. With such heavy themes, it’s a book to weigh upon your conscience as you ponder all the dreadful things humanity is responsible for. Orwell was ill for much of his life and also injured in the Spanish Civil War but he pushed himself hard to take part, write prolifically and tend his garden. The book ends, somewhat unexpectedly, with a look at the River Orwell, which inspired his pen name.
Thank you to the publisher Granta for the advance review copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 21st October.