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This report is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

The Toad, the Sparrow and the Lincolnshire Poacher Neil Powell

For over thirty years now, I've been following George Orwell about. When I lived in North Hertfordshire, my favourite winter afternoon walk would take me to the pretty dead-end-street hamlet of Wallington, where Orwell once lodged above the long-vanished Post Office Stores. Here in Suffolk, there's no escaping the man: in Southwold, to which he and his family moved in 1921, the friendly little bookshop is named after him, while further south the county is sliced by the river after which he named himself. Yet he's not a writer whom I greatly admire: he strikes me as a novelist who often didn't understand what a novel is for, rather like Martin Amis. And, again like Amis, he's usually more sure-footed as an essayist: two short pieces published during the spring of 1946 in the New Republic, and hence not far apart in Volume Four of the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, make the point beautifully. One is 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer', with its unbeatable summary of the literary freelancer's condition: 'If things are normal with him he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be suffering from a hangover.' The other is 'Some Thoughts on the Common Toad'.

In this, Orwell does something which bookish metropolitan folk usually find next to impossible. He joyfully admits that there is something beyond all this fiddle, and beyond the other fiddles of politics and ...

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