John Reed’s Snowball’s Chance takes its intriguing departure from Animal Farm, and set me thinking again about Orwell. These days I can’t get through almost any page of Orwell without a shudder, though in my teens I often had the Penguin selection of his essays in my pocket. I’d learned to loathe Animal Farm earlier at my prep school, Heatherdown, where any arguments for socialism would be met with brays of “and some are more equal than others” by my school mates.
Some writers admired in adolescence stay around for the rest of the journey, perennial sources of refreshment and uplift: P.G. Wodehouse, Stanley Weyman, H.L. Mencken, Flann O’Brien, to name but four I’d be glad to find in any bathroom. Now, why can Mencken delight me still, while the mere sight of a page of Orwell carries me back to memories of England and of British-ness at full disagreeable stretch: philistine, vulgar, thuggish, flag-wagging?