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In Front of Your Nose: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters Volume IV by George Orwell (1968) 555 p.

This is the fourth and final volume of George Orwell’s collected letters, essays and reviews, covering the period from 1945 through to Orwell’s death in January 1950 (though the last letter is dated October 1949). There’s much less journalism and opinion in this volume than previous ones; In Front of Your Nose consists largely of letters, which is understandable, since Orwell spent most of this period writing 1984 on a remote Scottish island, or slowly dying of tuberculosis in a hospital bed.

The dominance of letters is probably why I didn’t enjoy this volume as much as the last one; there are some brilliant essays in here, as you would expect from a writer at his peak, but I’d read most of them before in Shooting an Elephant. There was also something actually quite sad about reading the letters Orwell wrote in 1948 and 1949 as he was admitted to hospital; I knew he was headed for a slow and early death, but he didn’t know that, at least not until the end. The very last line in the book, drawn from a “Extracts From a Manuscript Notebook,” is:

At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.

Which was perhaps a reflection on healthy habits and clean living (not that Orwell was in favour of either). He never reached 50, which is a great shame, because society was robbed of his insights into the post-war military-industrial complex, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Thatcherism, and – if we were really lucky – the early 2000s and the Iraq War.
Nevertheless, even dying at a mere 46 years of age, Orwell was easily one of the most important writers of the 20th century. This four-volume set of his collected works is not for everyone, brimming as it is with personal correspondence and reviews of books that have long since vanished, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. I personally rate Orwell’s non-fiction better than his classic novels Animal Farm and 1984, and if you don’t at least read a few of his best essays, you can’t properly claim to have read Orwell.

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