Published Aug 2016
Do we need another biography of George Orwell? The answer is yes, if it is as racily readable as Orwell’s Nose. Orwell’s obsession with smells, agreeable and (more often) offensive has been noted before, but never explored to such effect, not excluding the smells of shag tobacco and B.O. he emitted himself. Sutherland combines admiration for Orwell’s "perfect prose" with a candid registration of his imperfections as a man, and his almost masochistic tendency to make life difficult for himself – which often however inspired his finest work.
In 2012 John Sutherland permanently lost his sense of smell. At about the same time he embarked on a re-reading of George Orwell’s works, and his lack of olfactory sense cast an entirely new light on the re-evaluation. What he now noticed was just how acutely attuned to scent Orwell was: rich descriptions of odours, fetors and reeks occur throughout his works, from Winston Smith’s apartment building in Nineteen Eighty-Four: ‘The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats’, to John Flory’s concubine Ma Hla May in Burmese Days: ‘A mingled scent of sandalwood, garlic, coconut oil and the jasmine in her hair floated from her.’
Orwell’s Nose is an original and imaginative account of the life and work of George Orwell, exploring the ‘scent narratives’ that abound in Orwell’s fiction and non-fiction. Along the way the author elucidates questions that remain unanswered in previous biographies, and addresses gaps in the evidence of the writer’s life and legacy. Orwell covered his tracks well; this illuminating and irreverent book provides a new understanding of one of our most iconic and influential writers.