This book is hot, humid, colourful, sweaty and sticky. It pulls you into the Burmese jungle and traps you there. In a good way.
Certainly not what I expected of Orwell, best known for 1984 and Animal Farm. The only previous literary hint I’d had of this tropical fever in his writing was in his two of his essays drawing on his experience as an Imperial policeman. I bought this for my boyfriend when we went to Myanmar last year. I’ve only just got round to reading it and I’m kicking myself for it.
Orwell captures the other-worldliness of Burma and the liminal, in-between nature of colonial society perfectly. Neither British-living, nor Burmese native, our protagonist Flory is very much an Englishman out in the midday sun. He struggles with the role of Rudyard Kipling-esque pukka-sahib, but will always be an outsider looking in on Burmese culture and politics.
Flory is a proxy for us, and an incredibly interesting one at that, because of his flaws and deformities. Through him, we meet a whole cast of comic and tragic characters. As a modern reader in a post-colonial era, the archaic world of the clubhouse and company man are as foreign to us as a Burmese dance show may be, adding an interesting lens to the book.
Literary criticism hat or not, it is the tiny details of everyday life that ring true for me, having visited this perculiar, previously isolated country: the chorus of bird call, wafting fragrant tobacco smoke, ice melting languidly in a glass, and rickety railway trains bumping along long-laid lines.