Coming up for air
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Coming up for Air is a strange book. I was determined not to like it, and yet I felt compelled to finish it, though I couldn’t stand to read much more than a chapter a day; a page-turner it wasn’t. It’s about a fat middle-aged salesman called George Bowling living a dull middle-class life in a dull London suburb, who goes out to get his new set of false teeth. On the way he sees a poster about King Zog’s wedding, and that sets him off reminiscing about his childhood in a small town in Oxfordshire. One expects the memories to last for a chapter or two, but they go on and on and on, while I kept wondering when it would get to the point, if there was one.
Yet in some ways it was also strangely compelling. The description of the esperience of going back to the scenes of one’s childhood seemed uncomfortably close to my own, some of which I have described here. He finds the rivers and ponds where he used to fish in hsi childhood either drained or hopelessly polluted so no fish could live in them. And I sometimes recall that I used to go swimming in the Jukskei River upstream and downstream of Alexandra Township. Would anyone dare to do that today?
It was all the more uncomfortable because George Bowling is not a very sympathetic character (sympathetic also in the Russian sense, in that one cannot feel a great deal of sympathy for him). He is selfish and and self-centred, and yet I found myself agreeing with some of his opinions: “I don’t mind towns growing, as long as they do grow and don’t just spread like gravy over a tablecloth.”