Burning Down George Orwell’s House–Andrew Ervin


I cannot remember for certain what made me buy Andrew Ervin’s debut novel, but I know that the title was an enticement.

Ervin wants to write a serious story.  Ray Welter flees his bankrupt materialist life for the Island of Jura.  He is separated from his college professor wife and possibly in love with an intern from his office who has gone off to South America to start a charitable organization for women.

Welter is hiding from the world by living in the remote house that was home to Orwell while he wrote 1984.  The locals are generally suspicious of him and some are downright hostile, including Pitcairn, the father of rebel/artist/teenager Molly.

Welter spends much of his time drunk on the wonderful scotch produced on the island and, despite the draw of the rugged nature outside his windows, trapped indoors in fear.  He reveals his sins.  He crafted an advertising campaign for military-grade SUVs that made their sins into desirables, that equated the consumption of fossil fuels with patriotism and liberty.  He was so successful that he was asked to do the same for the fracking industry.  That was when he headed for Jura.

Welter meets a handful of locals.  He hikes a bit. He stares at the Paps and dreams of hiking them.  He drinks and drinks and drinks.  He accomplishes little.  He seems to move forward when Molly seeks refuge from her abusive father by hiding with him, but when  Pitcairn drags her home, Welter returns to his drunken stupor.

The highpoint of the novel is anticlimactic and its conclusion equally so.  Orwell’s house never burns down.  It barely smokes or smolders.  I could feel Ervin wanting to say something grand, but he might have been better off saying something universal and genuine.

Finished 3/23/16


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