by John Boland

In a recent newspaper column, author Patrick McCabe said he had spent much of the previous week reading George Orwell.

“What baffles me,” he wrote, “is how prescient Orwell was”, and he instances “a great bit where he says everyone now is living the same kinds of lives.” This caused the Clones-born author to reflect that  nowadays “we allow our lives to be directed for us. Which is why we all read what’s at the front of the bookshop and why I am about to turn on the telly to see what Simon Cowell has decided I should be thinking.”

I know what he means. You generally don’t find a McCabe novel at the front of a bookshop and if it manages to attain that eye-catching position it’s fighting for attention amid all the trashy offerings to whch the marketing people choose to give prominence. And this led the author to hope that we might “get back for a while to reading important people like Orwell, who cared so much, in his own eccentric fashion, for people and society and captured the crackle that was going on around him.”

Indeed, he did, especially in his wonderful essays, which to me constitute one of the great achievements of the 20th century, and if by any chance you’re unfamiliar with them you can get the Everyman’s Library’s complete essays from Amazon for less than €20.

This is the edition to have. With a fine introducion by John Carey, it runs to almost 1,400 pages and contains every single one of the 242 essays that Orwell wrote, some unpublished during his lifetime.

Inside the covers of this handsome hardback, you’ll find exhilaratingly direct prose and supremely honest observations on everything from totalitarianism, social inequity, political duplicity and mass culture to seaside postcards, the animosity bred by sport and the best way to make a cup of tea. Just don’t look for it in the front of the bookstore.

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