Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 9, 2017

Book launch: The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover, at the Bookshop at Queenscliff

Not content with a hectic bookish week with Indigenous Literature Week here on the blog, together with Rare Books Week events and the launch of a NAIDOC week art exhibition organised by my local council, I finished off the week with the launch of a beaut new novel based on the life of George Orwell.  This involved a drive down to Queenscliff, which necessitated a very nice lunch at 360Q on the waterfront.  After that we did some strolling about in art galleries and antique shops and then it was time for the event.

It wasn’t, technically, at the Bookshop At Queenscliff, but it was their event, held in the Uniting Church on Hesse St.  (The pews are padded, so it’s comfortable). Matthew from the bookshop was in conversation with the author, Dennis Glover, and it was an excellent introduction to what looks like it’s going to be enjoyable reading.  I say that because as Dennis Glover was reading a page or two, I skipped ahead and read some of the rest of it.  (This is what I used to do at school, and *chuckle* I often got into trouble for it).

Dennis Glover (who has a PhD in history from Cambridge) is a speechwriter for all the Labor luminaries you can think of, and he writes essays and other non-fiction stuff for various media organisations, and he’s the author of The Art of Great Speeches (2010) and Orwell’s Australia (2003) – but The Last Man in Europe is his first venture into fiction.  (So technically, this is debut Australian fiction, but an emerging author, Glover is not!) The novel is a fictionalised account of the last three years of Orwell’s life when he was writing 1984, (which was originally going to be called The Last Man in Europe).

1984 first edition (Wikipedia Commons)

There is a worldwide resurgence of interest in 1984 (because of That Dreadful Man and the era of Fake News), and it’s often admired as a prophetic novel.  But apparently the book was instantly popular when it was first published in 1949 because Orwell was writing about his own times, about the rise of fascism during the Depression and the dangers of totalitarianism.  1984 was a warning that it could happen again.  But on his deathbed, Orwell contacted his publisher Warburg because he was concerned that the book was being misinterpreted as anti-Communist propaganda, and he demanded that Warburg put out a statement to the effect that the book was a warning that people everywhere – including in democratic states – need to be watchful, to guard their freedoms, and that it all depends on us to do that.

Glover says that 1984 is both political and personal.  There are elements and experiences from Orwell’s own life, such as the naming of Room 101 as the torture room.  This comes from when Orwell had a job in WW2 writing war propaganda, where he had to attend meetings at the Ministry of Information (now London University).  Orwell found these meetings sheer torture (don’t we all?) and they were held in, you guessed it, Room 101.   There’s also the Hate scene in 1984 which comes from when Orwell attended a Mosley fascist rally as a journalist, and Glover thinks that Winston’s relationship with Julia is based on his first wife, the girl from the fiction department.   Other aspects of the novel were also familiar to readers in the postwar era in England: like the characters of 1984 they were experiencing the misery of rationing  – which included some things which were not rationed during the war because after the war Britain had the additional burden of also feeding the people of Germany during the Allied Occupation.  (There was still rationing when I was born, and when my older sister born in 1949 was a baby, the family was restricted to one egg a week).  Britons were living the greyness of life under austerity until well into the 1950s.

Glover originally set out to write non-fiction about all this, and then toyed with the idea of writing SF about Winston’s son overthrowing the regime, but while he was doing the preparation for this he found that the writing of 1984 was intrinsically interesting.  He was also inspired by the novel HHhH by Laurent Binet (see my review) which fictionalised historic events (without being ‘historical fiction’ in the sense of the genre as it is usually understood).  He found that the story of Orwell’s novel is full of great dramatic events and that it would make a great literary story.

Photo by Ken Craig, CC BY-SA 2.0, (Wikipedia Commons)

Glover went to Jura in Scotland where Orwell famously wrote his novel, and he says that the remoteness of this place shows how desperate Orwell was to write his book while he still had time.  He was seriously ill with TB, and the journey to Barnhill – even now – is an arduous trip which includes a seven mile walk at the end of it.  Orwell was a day’s journey away from a doctor, and isolated from neighbours too.  But he needed to escape London and the world: he knew he was very ill and he was determined to write the novel that was a message for us all.

I haven’t seen a review of The Last Man in Europe yet but I like the sound of it and plan to read it soon-ish.  If anyone else has read it, let me know!

Author: Dennis Glover
Title: The Last Man in Europe
Publisher: Black Inc, 2017
ISBN: 9781863959377
Source: personal library, purchased from The Bookshop at Queenscliff, $29.99.  (The Spouse also bought the new edition of 1984, which has an introduction by Glover, I think that makes three copies we’ve got now!)

Available from Fishpond: The Last Man in Europe: A Novel

 


Responses

  1. Ive learned something new about 1984 from this review – I never realised orwell was so ill when he wrote it.

    • I haven’t read it myself yet, of course, but I am remembering the vivid scenes in Kathleen Jones’ biography of Katherine Mansfield’s biography, when Mansfield was dying of TB, and I can’t imagine the drive Orwell must have had to keep on writing if he was experiencing the same dreadful symptoms.

      • Maybe the writing was the only thing that was driving him on by that point.

        • There was a belief that brisk, bracing air was good for TB… I know that from reading Monica Dickens… what was that book called, the one where she made a comic novel out of being in hospital with TB?

          • Was it One pair of feet?

            • Yes, yes it was! One of my mother’s paperbacks. I read it as a teenager, and loved it. Which is a bit weird, when you think about it being a book about having TB, except that the book is all about making the best of things and seeing the funny side, which was a bit of a virtue in our family as it is (was?) in the UK and shows you that deep down I’m still a Brit inside.

              • I fear we may be losing our sense of humour – at least based on the way some people react on social media. they see everything as a personal insult or an attack

                • I deal with that by being very choosy indeed about who I friend with and follow on social media. All that argy-bargy is just like far away noise on the freeway… I know it’s there, but it doesn’t affect me.

                • I am selective too but its the public forums that seem to be the worst

  2. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  3. 1984 still being willfully misinterpreted as anti-communist propaganda. Glad to see confirmation that the intention was anti-totalitarian.

    • I’ll know more about this soon… the Spouse has bought the new edition with an intro by Glover, but I haven’t got my hands on it yet.

  4. 1984 pops up a lot lately as you pointed out (the dreadful man…don’t get me started). The new book sounds interesting. Sounds like the two of you had a lovely day out.

    • It was a lovely day. We were lucky with the weather!


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