Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays (Complete Works of George Orwell) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 13, 2008
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.
Top Customer Reviews
Most of the essays in Facing Unpleasant Facts come after Homage to Catalonia, so they all have a realist and rather bleak view of the world. The message throughout is that we all know certain facts about the world, but that somehow people have just avoided saying them; hence the title of the collection. Elsewhere, in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell notes that the language itself has become impoverished and calcified; without someone to sandblast off the rubbish, it will be impossible to talk straightforwardly about the way the world actually is.
Orwell honors that goal in Facing Unpleasant Facts. He is the master of the common English sentence. He tells stories about British colonialism that are devastating and to the point, as in "Shooting an Elephant" -- a perfect little gem of an essay, in which Orwell recounts killing the beast just so that he won't look like a fool before his Burmese subjects. In this sort of essay, the story doesn't spin very far from Orwell himself; he lets the audience draw its own inferences about the nature of colonialism. In others -- quite a few others -- he's more impersonal but just as concise: "England, Your England" is a series of flicks of the knife directed at the British government. The acid bubbles:
And yet somehow the ruling class decayed, lost its ability, its daring, finally even its ruthlessness, until a time came when stuffed shirts like [Anthony] Eden or [Lord] Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent. As for [Stanley] Baldwin , one could not even dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air.
Beneath it all is a visceral sadness for the suffering of mankind. Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War because he wanted to help people. In "Clink," he gets liquored up and tries to get arrested, so that he might document the viciousness of the police. (Perhaps to his dismay, they weren't all that vicious.) In "How The Poor Die," he recounts a few weeks he spent recuperating in a public hospital for the poor in France; the doctors hardly noticed that the sacks of flesh they were working on were human beings. In "Such, Such Were The Joys," we get a Roald Dahlish taste of the barbarity of British schools. Orwell sees great potential in the world, and much suffering; those further up in the hierarchy, whether deliberately or not (mostly deliberately) force those below them to suffer.
Facing Unpleasant Facts also contains some trifles not really connected to the collection's title. For instance, there's a little essay on how to make a proper English cup of tea. There are a few pages in defense of British food. There's a charming essay on the return of spring; I have to imagine that essay rescued a few London moods at the height of the Blitz. A man can't argue the virtues of socialism all the time. I think it's safe to say, though, that socialism is where Orwell's heart lay; the springtime merely paid the bills.
Facing Unpleasant Facts is a fun, quick read. Its staying power lies in understanding Orwell more than it lies in understanding Britain, or socialism, though it's valuable on those as well. It's most valuable to budding essayists, who want to study at the feet of a master.
One of these essays, for example, "A Hanging," relates an incident that occurred when Orwell was serving as a colonial police officer in Burma. He had to witness the hanging of a Hindu man. The crime for which the man is being executed is never named. Thus, we are forced to concentrate on the act of hanging a human being, rather than the execution of a criminal. Orwell writes, "I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide" (p. 25).
In "Shooting an Elephant," he tells of another incident during his service in Burma. An elephant has gone rogue and killed a man. When Orwell arrives on the scene with his rifle, thousands of villagers flock around him in excitement waiting for the white man to kill the elephant. But by this time the elephant has calmed down and is placidly feeding on grass. Orwell wants to wait for the elephant's owner to come and claim it, but the surging crowd wants to see a kill. Feeling pressured, Orwell inexpertly shoots the elephant, and the beast dies a slow, agonizing death. The point of the story: even a colonial ruler is not free to act wisely and justly. He shot the elephant because that is what the villagers expected of him in his role. "...when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys" (p. 34).
"In Front of Your Nose" relates a number of incidents in which people act in ways that seem to defy logic. Orwell cites such diverse events as the British refusal to make use of immigrant labor to solve a labor shortage in the coal mines, the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the failure to undertake military conscription in preparation for oncoming war, etc., to illustrate this point: "that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right." Furthermore, we are capable of carrying on such self-delusions almost indefinitely, except that, he notes chillingly, "sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield" (p. 212).
In "Why I Write," Orwell tells about his early experiments in writing. He says, "I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life" (p. 224). This sense of failure, as he explains in more detail in "Such, Such Were the Joys," was drummed into him as a very young boy while he was a student at a boarding school. Somehow he overcame this brain-washing exercise and went on to become one of England's greatest and most influential writers. This collection of essays gives one a taste of Orwell's facility with words and his ability to examine and find meaning in unpleasant facts.