Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin

george orwellWhen you’re at the top of your game career-wise and you start to dislike the game, where do you go from there?

In Ray Welter’s case, the rural island of Jura off the west coast of Scotland, where there is barely 200 people, thousands of red deer, and a distillery.  And sheep – did we mention sheep?  And a werewolf?

Ray did high-profile ad work and recently masterminded a massive publicity job for a gas-guzzling SUV that paid off handsomely for him, but put people out of work due to outsourcing.  Reeling in guilt and alcohol, and struggling with a ruined marriage, Ray quits work and travels to Jura, intent on renting Barnhill, the cottage where George Orwell lived while writing 1984.

Getting there is the first hurdle – the house is at the most remote section of the island, accessible only by four-wheel drive or shank’s mare.  Ray doesn’t exactly endear himself to the natives, and his main source of transport is a hard-drinking curmudgeon (somewhat of an understatement) who has an intense dislike of Ray.

Ray slowly acquaints himself to the rhythms of the island, tempered with lots of the local distilled product.  He finds help from some unlikely sources, one of which gets him into major trouble.  Still, through all the craziness, Ray manages to realize some of the special qualities of Jura, even though he will never be an island man himself.

Burning Down George Orwell’s House is a worthy summer read – a latter-day going-off-the-grid story that takes the reader from the Big Brother of corporate America to the greenery and mists of the Inner Hebrides, with a humorous twist, and lots of whisky.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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