A graphic and biting polemic that still holds a fierce political relevance and impact despite being written over half a century ago. First published in 1937 it charts George Orwell's observations of working-class life during the 1930s in the industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire. His depictions of social injustice and rising unemployment, the dangerous working conditions in the mines amid general squalor and hunger also bring together many of the ideas explored in his later works and novels.
©2012 Canongate Books (P)2012 George Orwell
I'm a singing songwriting postie living in Yorkshire. Sometimes I like to be challenged by a book, and sometimes I just want to lose myself.
I had a vague idea what this book was about - a middle class George Orwell goes 'Up North' to see how the working classes live - but I wasn't expecting it to be such a personally touching story. My family are from West Yorkshire and, as far back as we can go, we have been miners, living in the small mining communities that are described in The Road To Wigan Pier. Infact, my Grandad started down the pit in 1937 - as a 15 year old boy, the year this book was published - and the descriptions of the lives and homes of the mining families really hit home for me. The visceral account of how the miners would have to crawl through miles of dark and dusty tunnels before they even reached the coal face - and then do their 7 hours of difficult and dangerous graft before making the return trip - made my knees and back ache in sympathy for my young Grandad; no doubt it would have been my lot had I been born 50 years earlier.
Orwell's writing is superb, and this first half of the book flew by, but I wasn't expecting the sudden shift into polemic that takes up the second half and I kinda lost the flow for a while, but it turned out to be a very interesting insight into that strange period - just before WWII - when Fascism, Socialism and Capitalism were fighting for dominance. And, interestingly, many of his arguments about what was wrong in society rang true for our own times: unemployment, housing shortages, the poor eating junk food, and the onslaught of crass media, cheap clothes and technological toys that distracted the masses from engaging in meaningful debate or action.
So overall this was an extremely interesting read - if not an entertaining one - and I would thoroughly recommend it.
I've been listening to audiobooks for years now and can comfortably say that this is a real gem of a reading. Orwell's writing is compelling and the subject matter has a particular meaning for me since both of my grandfathers were miners in the era Orwell describes so the first half of the book is just brilliant.
What really makes this shine is that Jeremy Northam really picks up and runs with Orwell's passion in not only the first part of the book but also the second part: a political essay which I suspect could seem dull and ranty in the hands of a lesser reader. It's so good I shall almost certainly listen to this audiobook again, something I this far have never felt the need to do.
"Our only hope is in the Prols". Orwell has this message whispered through this work. Again he experiences privation to gain true understanding of the society he is to write about. He speaks realistically about the working class; about what their immediate needs are and also what holds them back. This includes their own mind forged manacles. If the reader is looking for some light reading, keep looking. This is a serious and brilliant work by perhaps the greatest writer of the 20th century.
I'm Steph. I live in Polegate, Sussex and listen to most of my audiobooks on the bus - makes commuting to work a pleasure!
Finished listening to an Audible download of Road To Wigan Pier today and it is a truly astounding book. I think, had I encountered it 80 years ago, it would have been life-changing. Plus there is still so much that is completely relevant now and it is interesting to see how much of Orwell's future prognosis has come to pass. I am sure that much of my enjoyment of the work was due to Jeremy's excellent and impassioned narration. The second part moves from social observation to political ideology and, had I been just reading, I possibly would have got lost and given up. However, having the audio made it feel as though the different ideas and perspectives were being explained just to me(!) and I now have a far better understanding of the politics of the time.
A classic of polemical journalism. Jeremy Northam captures Orwell's tone, both narrative and polemical, perfectly. I listened to it on a train ride from Glasgow to London and the time simply flew by.
Orwell's pose and descriptive detail drags you along without notice into the darkest deepest Lancashire pits. His venom and loathing of the class system makes comfortable reading in the year 2013. The genius of the man is obviously helped by the fact he is such a caring author as he reels and recoils in describing the hell of the 1930's living and working conditions. Orwell is without doubt a master of the English language his name is to be celebrated along with the likes of Shakespeare, Tennison, Twain and Wilde.
Masterful performance by Jeremy Northam. Always a joy to listen to his reading.
Just listen and I guarantee you will be so glad you were not born earlier to a working class Northern family.
17th Century Heretic
Fascinating combination of personal experience, political comment and a masterful appeal to hope. One of the last of Orwells books which I have encountered personally. But one of the best.
ps. Would be nice if Audible stopped treating its customers like idiots and let us write reviews that are free form. All these questions make reviews harder to read and less reliable as the format tends to obscure the priorities of the reviewer, which is critical in assessing their likely relevance.
This book is split is effectively split into two havles. The first half explains the life and hardships involved in working in the coal mines duing the early 1930s. The second half is more of a general discourse about poverty, going in to matters such as nutrition, average earnings etc. It is the first half that is the more interesting listen, and whilst the second half is of some interest it became quite hard work after a while.
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