Orwell's Nose: A Pathological Biography

Reaktion. Sept. 2016. 240p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781780236483. $25. LIT
The smells of people, places, and food permeate the writings of George Orwell (1984; Animal Farm, among others). In this unusual biography, Sutherland (English emeritus, Univ. Coll. London; How To Be Well Read) uses Orwell's obsession with smell as an approach to understanding the novelist's life (1903–50). He partially succeeds. A lengthy preface quickly establishes the irreverent tone of the book, with subsections titled "Orwell's Smell-Talent" and "The Sour Smell of Politics." The preface is ripe with rich examples from Orwell's novels and nonfiction (e.g., "The lower classes smell," his famous line from The Road to Wigan Pier), but Sutherland doesn't follow through when he delves into a concise standard biography. A more dominant theme emerges from those pages, that of Orwell's sexual predatory nature. Orwell was called a "sexual raider" by his friends, and he pursued any available woman he could find. Sutherland also writes extensively about the contradictions in Orwell's life, his fascination with hardship and farming, and his frequent cruelty toward family and loved ones.
VERDICT While this is a compelling and lively book, it will give average readers a skewed introduction to Orwell. It will not replace the major biographies by Michael Shelden, Jeffrey Meyers, and Gordon Bowker, but will have some appeal to devotees of all things Orwell.
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