Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Establishment by Owen Jones - 1

Prominent on the front cover of The Establishment by Owen Jones is a quote by celebrity Russell Brand.

"Our generation's Orwell" Mr Brand proclaims.

For those of use who find Russell Brand distasteful, such an endorsement makes handling the book problematic.  It somehow makes the book feel dirty (Russell Brand is a celebrity womaniser, and possibly the "dirty" reaction is a subliminal feeling that a person who excessively sleeps around probably has venereal disease - unjust perhaps, but one cannot help one's reflex prejudices).  The solution is to remove the cover.

What however are we to make of the comparison with George Orwell?  This may just be publisher's blurb composed more or less at random, in which case the Brand quote might as well have been "Our generation's Shakespeare" or "Our generation's Barbara Cartland".  But assuming it was meant sincerely one must ask whether it is true.

Owen Jones is a good and competent writer, but he is not in the same category as George Orwell.  His writing is seldom emotionally moving.  He is too partisan for his work to achieve the humanity and universality of the Orwell oeuvre.

Nor has he written any fiction (we can ignore the critics who condemn his ideas as fantasy) and without substantial examples of fictional writing the comparison with Orwell is absurd.

Nor does he achieve Orwell status on the basis of being a left-wing writer expressing his life experiences.  Being raised in a comfy middle class family in Stockport and living in rented accommodation in London does not equate to Down and Out in Paris and London.  Going on an expenses-paid trip to Venezuela does not have the same committed intensity as Homage to Catalonia.  His collected articles from the Independent and the Guardian, passionate though they may be, do not add up to The Lion and the Unicorn.  Sometimes his articles (particularly those about the working class) have an echo of The Road to Wigan Pier but echoes are not enough.

If Russell Brand had said "Our generation's Tony Benn" one could perhaps agree with him.

But the comparison with George Orwell does not stand.

I doubt whether seventy or eighty years from now Tory MPs will be supporting the idea of a statue of Owen Jones outside the BBC.

1 comment:

Matthew Selwyn said...

Completely agree, and it is no criticism of Owen Jones to say that the comparison doesn't stand up at present. Comparisons to Orwell are all too easily drawn and rarely merited.

My review: The Establishment by Owen Jones