Book: Orwell’s Nose

George Orwell did not have a nose because he did not exist. Eric Arthur Blair had a nose, and he sometimes used it to smell things. End of review.

This is a short book, by John Sutherland, a literature professor who is highly regarded in both the US and the UK. It came about when he permanently lost his own sense of smell during a bad hay fever episode. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

It’s an excellent idea for a book, but it completely fails to deliver. It turns out that although Orwell did mention smell a few times, it wasn’t nearly often enough to fill a proper biography. So this is mainly a slim biography with the odd nod to the human nose. Or, more specifically, our sense of smell.

For most people, smell is the one sense they think they could manage quite happily without. There are countless scenarios in which not being able to smell anything is highly desirable. As long as you don’t work in perfume or food. It’s probably closely followed by taste in the dispensability stakes.

I now realise that this will be a short review. I learnt vastly more about Orwell the man and writer, far more entertainingly, by reading the excellent compilations of his letters and diaries by Harvill Secker and edited by Peter Davison in 2009. But the comparison is a little unfair. They are different books, and very different ideas. If you’re not a die-hard Orwell fan and you haven’t read anything about him before, but you’ve heard of Animal Farm and 1984 then you’re probably going to get a lot out of this book very quickly. Otherwise, avoid.