The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover
The Overlook Press 256 pp.
In the spring of 1947, with Nazism defeated in Europe and Stalinism on the rise, George Orwell left London for the Scottish Isles to write a novel about totalitarianism. By the end of 1948, Orwell had finished the manuscript, and he flipped the last two digits of the year to come up with its famous title. Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the masterpieces of world literature, would give us “Big Brother,” “thought police,” and a chilling vision of what was to come in the second half of the 20th century -- and beyond.
In his highly compelling, deeply researched novel The Last Man in Europe -- the title Orwell almost gave Nineteen Eighty Four -- Dennis Glover tells the dramatic story of an author, in the twilight of his life, composing the greatest of his literary works. The setting was a bleak one – a ramshackle farmhouse on the remote island of Jura, during one of the coldest winters of the century. Orwell, who was sick with tuberculosis, labored away on his manuscript when he was not confined to bed or collapsed over his typewriter.
These extraordinary literary exertions ended in triumph: Nineteen Eighty-Four was an immediate sensation, and its high literary quality and importance were recognized at once. Orwell was flooded with congratulations from the world’s greatest writers, and the book sold briskly in England and abroad.
Glover’s true focus, however, is not the book but the man, and that part of his story did not end well. As the raves for Nineteen Eighty-Four poured in, Glover writes, Orwell “lay flat on his back, emaciated, his waxen skin clinging to his bones – like one of the inmates of the Nazi death camps in Germany.” A little more than a year later, at the age of 46, his body ravaged but his literary reputation still soaring, Orwell was dead.