cover image Orwell’s Roses

Orwell’s Roses

Rebecca Solnit. Viking, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-08336-9

Solnit carefully charts the life of George Orwell (1903–1950) by focusing on his love of roses and all things natural in this brilliant survey (after Recollections of My Nonexistence). Her study of the “sublimely gifted essayist” and novelist is not a biography, she notes, rather “a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses.” After reading an essay in which Orwell expounds upon the power of trees, Solnit begins to see his writing differently, spotting more “enjoyment” in his work. She follows Orwell’s “episodic” life from his birth in northern India to coal mines in England, to Spain, and through his marriages, but begins with and returns often to his midlife in Wallington, England, where he rented a cottage in 1936 and planted his roses. She also traces her own interests that mirror his, such as climate, class, and politics—Orwell wrote “about toads and spring but also about principles and values and arguing with an orthodoxy.” A disquisition on the suffragists’ song “Bread and Roses” and a look at the rose trade in Bogotá happen along the way, but Solnit never loses sight of Orwell and his relationship to nature: “Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening,” he wrote. Fans of Marta MacDowell’s biographies of gardening writers will appreciate this lyrical exploration. (Oct.)