In 2012 writer John Sutherland permanently lost his sense of smell. At about the same time, he embarked on a rereading of George Orwell and—still coping with his recent disability—noticed something peculiar: Orwell was positively obsessed with smell. In this original, irreverent biography, Sutherland offers a fresh account of Orwell’s life and works, one that sniffs out a unique, scented trail that wends from Burmese Days through Nineteen Eighty-Four and on to The Road to Wigan Pier.
Sutherland airs out the odors, fetors, stenches, and reeks trapped in the pages of Orwell’s books. From Winston Smith’s apartment in Nineteen Eighty-Four, which “smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats,” to the tantalizing aromas of concubine Ma Hla May’s hair in Burmese Days, with its “mingled scent of sandalwood, garlic, coconut oil, and jasmine,” Sutherland explores the scent narratives that abound in Orwell’s literary world. Along the way, he elucidates questions that have remained unanswered in previous biographies, addressing gaps that have kept the writer elusively from us. In doing so, Sutherland offers an entertaining but enriching look at one of the most important writers of the twentieth century and, moreover, an entirely new and sensuous way to approach literature: nose first.