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This book is not the usual sort of book I read but I have always wanted to read some of George Orwells work.
It took me a while to get into it and I found I read a few pages , then forgot about it, read a few more and so on until I got about 15 or so pages in and then I was hooked It took me longer that I would have liked to read it as I was really busy with work and exams but every spare minute I had I was reading it and I loved it.
The story is set in two halves the first in Paris and the Second London, although the story is about living in extreme poverty it is still funny and light hearted and gives a really balanced few of life living in the slums in both Paris and London. It is also interesting to read the comparisons made of both French people and British as well as the difference between the slums in both countries.
It is an easy book to read and not to long and although it is a hard subject matter to read about it is written in such a way that it is still entertaining and overall a happy book to read.
I think it was a good choice for a first book of George Orwell's to read and I will be trying some more of his work soon.
This review is also on my Ciao account under user name shellyjaneo
Down and out in London and Paris is a book I have read several times, and each time I find myself intrigued by Orwell's style, and each of the two sections is based on Orwell's actual experiences. While truthfully it depicts an era very much past, the life of a dishwasher in a Parisian hotel in the first part, it remains haunting in its rendition of poverty.
The second part is based around one of Orwell's earlier essays 'The Spike', depicting life of a travelling tramp, moving from 'spike' to 'spike' no able to stay in one place for more than a night. It is the attention to individual details that is particularly noticeable, the collecting of cigarette ends, the embarrassment of receiving charity. Orwell is particularly critical of religious groups. The book as a whole is genuinely endearing, and is well worth reading for anyone. While as was previously stated it somewhat depicts a world that has already passed, it is still interesting if just for its historical significance.
Gosh - I can't believe that it's 40 years ago that I first read George Orwell's 'Down & out in Paris & London' & it's one of a very few books that I've re-read.
Orwell is probably best known for '1984', 'Animal Farm' & 'Road to Wigan Pier' though he was a prolific writer who was described by The Economist in 1953 as, '.. pehaps the best 20th century's chronicler of English culture..'
Don't let this give you the impression that Orwell's books are unreadable, in fact they are highly readable on several levels so can be enjoyed by a huge number of people.
'Down & out in London & Paris' is a semi-autobiographical account of living in the 2 cities of Paris & London & was published in 1933.
The first part of the book is set in Paris where Orwell's hotel keys are stolen & he is robbed of everything he owned in the world.
His story is then a graphic account of getting into deeper & deeper poverty, his encounters & his emotions.
The second part is based on his experiences of acute povery in London.
Please don't let me give you the impression that this is all doom & gloom - in parts it is funny, the whole book is entertaining - if I had to describe the style I'd say it is tragic-com.
There are loads of interesting characters - some sane, some very weird, some funny yet sad - the thing they all have in common is their poverty.
We are also given a good insight into hostels for the homeless in both cities, pawning & pawnbrokers, the reaction of non-homeless people, the pride of the homeless & what's it's like literally not knowing where the next halfpenny or centime is coming from.
We are also taken into the world of the working poor in the world of kitchen-workers in hotels
Orwell provides is with a great insight into the strict hierarchy from top chef, waiter to dishwasher and tells us about the abuse, the dreadful conditions etc but it's all written in Orwell's witty & honest style which is highly readable.
By focusing particularly on those working within the hotel kitchen, he is really giving us a micro-look at the class system in the 1930's in both Paris & London.
It doesn't have to be read as a political text but as a focus on the poor of the time before social security or enjoyed as the good story it certainly is!
If this isn't on the National Curriculum, in my opinion, it should be despite the bad language - it's a great book which I've never forgotten.
Some parts of this book are disturbing, shocking, funny or at least thought-provoking - a brilliant book in my opinion.
what a brilliant author orwell is. despite being dead for almost fifty years this sharp and politically affective book still has that cutting edge that only comes with one of orwell's works. i was completely engrossed in what i found to be a compelling tale showing emotion and making the strong political statement that always comes with orwell. however long it takes you to read this book not only will you adore every single minute but you will live the story as if you were their. that is something 99 out of every 100 authors fail to do. absolutely brilliant.
People often underestimate the power of Orwell as a true literary writer commenting about facts in our history. In some aspects this is correct and he has been in the past openly criticised for his satire Animal Farm; however Down And Out In Paris And London is one of if not the best understanding of poverty and hardships that I have come across to date in any literary text. The novel is not very long and I find this effective in the sense that I can always reopen the novel in later weeks and realise how actually fortunate I am. The story begins with our protagonist; a writer who has been ruined by circumstance is forced to sell all his worldly possessions on the streets of Paris. He is evicted from his apartment and already it becomes apparent to the reader that these hardships are ones that they could only dream of. The brilliance of Orwell here is the fact that he manages to form a sort of link between you and the protagonist so that you not only understand his predicament but feelings of sympathy and despair are also aroused in you as he is forced to juggle numerous poor paying jobs in an uptown Paris hotel. The story links to London when our protagonist finds from a dear pen friend that there is work available as a translator in London. After being worked ridiculously hard in a Russian restaurant, our protagonist decides to leave for England. This is where Orwell brings realization to just to the protagonist but to the reader also, when he arrives in London, his job has been postponed for a month and again through complete circumstance and no fault of his own is forced to become a tramp and again sell all his worldly possessions. Orwell here is trying to not only explain how ones luck can change so dramatically but also that nothing is certain and there is no limit to misfortune. When reading the novel you will find yourself gripped; pleading with Orwell to provide the enthusiastic unfortunate protagonist some sort
of relief, throughout the novel, the literature is clouded with a curtain of despair. But one which Orwell has designed not to separate them from the emotions of the novel. Soon the protagonist expects his fate and the reader is forced into the devastating realisation that there is a limit on hope, and he accepts his predicament. "It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs-and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety." Orwell has designed his novel so that it is apparent to all societies. How many times have you crossed a road, observed a homeless person and came to some sort of judgemental conclusion, whether it was drugs or crime, however this novel shall give you a whole new insight into the lives of the poverty stricken. And what other novels are great but the ones which provide insight, intelligence and enlightenment into the society of which we reside.
George Orwell's first book, first published in 1933, is more or less faction. It was inspired partly by Jack London's 'People of the Abyss' (1902), an account of time spent living among the poor of London at the turn of the century. Though it reads like a novel, it is largely autobiographical. Originally called 'A Scullion's Diary', it was based on his experiences in Paris, among the 'plongeurs', or lowly-paid unqualified workers in seedy restaurants and hotels. A year later he revised it, adding another dozen or so chapters on his life among the tramps in London. It opens with life in the Rue Du Coq D'Or, a street in one of the Parisian slums, personified by the cries of street hawkers and children, and the stench of refuse carts. To him, it is a 'quite representative Paris slum' where he finds a cosmopolitan mix of mainly Poles, Italians and Arabs in cheap hotels, rubbing shoulders with the loners and the drifters. The place comes alive at night when most of them flock to the bistros to drink, talk, laugh and sing. For many of the men he meets, unmarried and with no future to look forward to, getting sozzled on Saturday night is the only thing that makes life worth living. And it means he meets some interesting characters, particularly a stonemason who's a communist when sober, but violently patriotic and fiercely right-wing after a few bevvies. Being without money, he suggests, isn't the end of the world. "It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty - it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first; the shift
s that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping." Some of those he meets are rather more careful with what little money they have, none more so than the miser who makes his underwear out of newspapers, invests 6,000 francs in cocaine, and hides it in a face powder tin when the police come calling. Of course, they arrest him but have to let him go as the apparently controlled substance turns out to be face powder, not cocaine. Orwell's poverty confronts him when his savings are gone and he has to make money by giving English lessons at 36 francs a week. Taking clothes to the pawn shop also helps, except he gets ripped off by the shop owner. Left with no clothes, except those he is wearing, and only little money left, he starts looking for a job. Working 12-18-hour days as a 'plongeur' (dishwasher) in a dingy restaurant is the best he can manage. By the standards of the day, it's quite a good restaurant. As long as the food looks good, it must be OK. Never mind tiresome things like hygiene. There are cockroaches in the breadbins. Big deal. A waiter drops a roast chicken down the shaft, and it lands three floors below in a pile of rubbish. Can't waste it - just wipe it and send it up again. Who's to know? In the second section of the book, he has moved to London to joins the ranks of homeless tramps. These chapters suggest he seems less involved in the life he is observing, viewing the experience rather as an outsider looking in. As an ex-Etonian, maybe this is where the 'them-and-us' element kicks in. All the same, there are acute studies of the way of life, plus some engaging pen-portraits of those he meets on the streets and in the shelters or 'spikes'. Humble as the latter are, he finds them preferable to the Salvation Army shelters which are clean, but drained of all character and thus far more dreary than the worst of 'the common lodging houses
9;. The most abiding personality he meets is Paddy, the Irish tramp, contemptuous of books and reading, and bitterly indignant at the sight in a bookshop window of Thomas à Kempis, 'On The Imitation of Christ'. "What de hell do dey want to go imitatin' Him for?" Paddy is bit of a racist, damning all foreigners as responsible for unemployment. (Remember the notorious Oswald Mosley's star was briefly in the ascendant at this time). Another, perhaps more likeable, is Bozo, the screever or pavement artist, who does not so much disbelieve in God as positively dislike Him, and who reveals a gift for drawing and also a passionate love of astronomy. Look at the stars, he says, a free show in the sky at night; “it costs nothing to use your eyes”. From his meanderings, Orwell concludes that a beggar is a business man, who “has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.” He might have added that though beggars can't be choosers, they don't need accountants either. There are (or were) some interesting cultural differences between both capitals. In London men don't normally swear in front of women, and are invariably more polite, or perhaps squeamish, than their Parisian counterparts. [Thinks - are French dooyoosers less likely to asterisk four-letter words in their opinions than us Brits?] Another point he makes is that on either side of the Thames, the homeless are allowed to sit down for the night, but liable to be moved on if they fall asleep, on the grounds that this prevents people dying of exposure. There is no such law in Paris. As he suggests, people are probably just as likely to perish of exposure whether awake or asleep. Finally he adds a few comments about colloquial and vulgar language, and rhyming slang. In both cities, he regards calling a woman a 'cow' as the worst possible (or printable) insult, w
hile noting that as cows are among the most likeable of animals, maybe the term is an unintentional compliment. He also considers that rhyming slang, all the rage 25-30 years earlier, is now almost extinct. Ah, he should have been around another 30 years on, when Londoners were offering each other 'Nelson Eddies' (readies) or talking about going for a 'Ruby Murray' (curry). He should have waited for 'Minder' (which is where I first learnt about it). All things considered, this may be a rather uneven book, but none the less very engaging and readable. It's an intriguing window on a way of life which was still widespread close to home in our parents' or grandparents' time. The title suggests squalor, but that's not the impression it left me with. Make do and mend, certainly, but it’s a warm portrait of and insight into life between the wars, in which even the less fortunate had their dignity and their sense of humour in their ways of getting by. Down and Out in Paris and London George Orwell Penguin, pbk, £5.99 (high street); £4.79 (Amazon) 0140282564
Orwell started his writing career as a journalist, I believe, and if Down And Out In Paris And London is to be taken as indicative of his work, then he was stunning at his job. The book follows Orwell's time slumming it in the two cities of the title, and provides a wonderful insight into the lives of the extremely poor at the time it was written. He puts himself through a great deal, and succeeds in presenting a memorable picture of a variety of unique individuals and circumstances encountered upon his travels. Whatever your persuasion, this book makes for a very interesting and enjoyable read.
Orwell's memoirs of his time among the poor of Paris and London.