Burning Down George Orwell's House
by Andrew Ervin
Review by Gayle Surrette
Soho Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616954949
Date: 05 May 2015 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
I've been mulling over how to review this book. It's not really a mystery, but it is a journey of discovery. Ray Welter somehow lost himself. After graduating from college he worked in advertising. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four had been a touchstone for him, supplying him with a love of language and some ways of looking at language to manipulate the thinking of others. In fact, it was a campaign he designed to get people to purchase huge gas gusseling off-road vehicles that eventually led to his wife leaving him. Of course, his excessive love of single malt didn't help either.
He decides to take a break and spend a year on the Isle of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides to live in the cottage where George Orwell wrote Nineteen-Eighty-Four. When he arrives at the island he finds himself a fish out of water. He's an outsider and the islanders have no problem jerking him around. A few can take or leave him, but one of the men is continually threatening him with violence. At first, he thinks it's just bravado but learns that in fact the man would be capable of killing him.
Ray spends most of the book dead drunk to minimally functioning drunk. But he does come to feel he's dropped into a bizarre alternate reality. One of the men who works at the brewery drops in occasionally to give him advice on how to handle the other men. but since this otherwise sane brew-master believes he's a werewolf, Ray's not inclined to believe everything he's told.
It's not quite a journey of self-discovery either though Ray does make some changes to his life and his relationship with his world and the people in it. On the other hand, there's a lot of information on the process of brewing single malts and the environmental factors that are impacting the taste and look of the finished product.
I spent a good deal of time on the Isle of Jura website looking at the various B&Bs and there were photos of the setting and outside of Barnhill where Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. While I wonder what the people of Jura would think about this book, because it certainly didn't put the island's population in a good light, it did act almost as a travelogue of the various sights and vistas of the island.
It's a bit hard to get into but, once hooked, it is absorbing. It's not until you finish that you realize there's no mystery, just a man dropped into a dream or a nightmare trying to make sense of his surroundings. Recommended if you would like to watch someone deal with outrageous characters in a setting that's as wild as the passions of the people.