Based on Orwell’s time in India, the hero of this tale is John Flory – a rather melancholy figure whose work involves overseeing timber excavation. Set in the fictional district of Kyauktada, the plot revolves around the humdrum existence of British ex-pat regulars at the British club. When the dreary regularity of their lives is disturbed by the arrival of a young woman, Flory tries to win her over. Local government corruption, however, and the newcomer’s distaste of Flory’s apparent love of Burmese culture, only serve to drive a wedge between them:
Elizabeth watched the dance with a mixture of amazement, boredom and something approaching horror. She had sipped her drink and found that it tasted like hair oil. On a mat by her feet three Burmese girls lay fast asleep with their heads on the same pillow, their small oval faces side by side like the faces of kittens.
There’s more than a hint of racism in a few of the characters and Orwell was chastised in some quarters for his depiction of the ‘old colonials’, but he maintained that while parts of the manuscript were complete fiction, much of it was based on simple observations made during his stay in Burma.
Orwell’s publishers (Gollancz) wouldn’t touch the book for fear of libel charges and it was eventually published in the US with some changes to the typescript to avoid possible identification with actual living people. Some years later, several ‘characters’ from the book were nevertheless identified via the Rangoon Gazette, but by then, Gollancz had brought out a British version of the novel.
Though highly enjoyable, and in parts quite fascinating, ‘Burmese Days’ is a bit of a sad book – it tells of a time and place when respect for the common man is at a low ebb. And without giving too much away, Orwell’s hero does not come out of it very well.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
When a visitor leaves a walking stick behind, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson ponder on who their unseen caller might be. As usual, Holmes is able to describe the visitor in great detail, remarking on the man’s profession, his pet dog, his age, poor memory and even where he might live and work. When the owner of the stick returns to collect it, Holmes is of course proved correct. The man introduces himself as Dr Mortimer and confirms that he recently moved from a post in a London hospital to one in Devonshire. His new post however, has brought him into contact with an ancient family curse, detailing a gruesome and murderous legend.
Sherlock Holmes is initially not impressed and waves Doctor Mortimer’s tale aside as only being of interest to “a collector of fairytales”. However, his interest grows when Mortimer reveals details of the recent death at Baskerville Hall of its owner, Sir Charles Baskerville. Mortimer is convinced that the Baronet’s death cannot be due to natural causes and mentions the footprints found near the dead man’s body. Holmes is still not convinced, until Mortimer utters those immortal words:
“Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound.”
If Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing career had gone the way he expected, we might never have heard of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. Doyle wanted to leave his famous detective behind and move on to other novels (such as the Professor Challenger series), but the popularity of Sherlock Holmes got the better of him. The ‘death’ of the great detective at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (under the magnificent backdrop of the Reichenbach Falls), was a step too far for Holmes’ fans and Doyle eventually succumbed to public opinion. Finding a way to reinstate his illustrious hero however, took a little longer – Holmes eventually returned in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’. In the meantime Doyle penned one of his most thrilling tales. Set before the events in ‘The Final Problem’ Doyle pits his hero against an unusual foe.
This classic tale of murder, mystery and spectral hounds on the sinister and ominous moors will keep you reading till its thrilling climax.