Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Down and Out in Paris and London: review
Down and Out in Paris and London
Author: George Orwell
Rating: 4 stars
Summary: This unusual fictional account - in good part autobiographical - narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur. In London, while waiting for a job, he experiences the world of tramps, street people, and free lodging houses. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society.
This is a very easy book to just read in one sitting. The writing is quick and the chapters just blend together. I'm kind of glad I didn't read this before my Europe trip, because I would have forgotten the time gap, and crossed those two disgusting cities off my list. (Which, I can now report, are much improved.)
There are two distinct parts to the book, the narrator's time in Paris, and then in London. I have to admit, for the first 30 pages or so, I thought this was a non-fictional account of Orwell's history growing up since the main character doesn't actually have a name, and the back cover almost implies it. But I think it's just based off of some of his experiences, because there are sure some dirty secrets I'm sure weren't common knowledge at the time.
I enjoyed the Paris work more, because though it was extremely gritty and depressing, it's Paris. And I'm growing fond of that city, no matter its faults. What amazed me the most is how little you can actually live on, after pawning all your possessions, and not eating for days on end. It made me lethargic just thinking about his days. Life as a "poulanger" (can't remember it exactly?) sounds awful, and I don't know how people did that sort of thing. There isn't life, it's just getting by; having no bigger purpose than a few hours work in the future.
For London, he mainly talked about where to sleep every night. Those spikes were described so horrendously, it was hard to believe. I am so glad the hostel-like places have improved since, at least, in the cleanliness factor. The thing that kept confusing me was all the different ways of adding up money. There's too many different terms for sixpence, halfpence, one and fourpenny, etc etc...so besides that, I mean, you can pretty much tell he's living dollar to dollar.
He did meet many unique individuals during his time in both cities, and those snippets of people's lives really gave this book a heart, and showed me people do this, or did this, and survived. Some of course, better off than others, but really it's quite impressive.
And that six-page chapter in the middle somewhere, describing all the slang and swear words of London in that time, was totally enjoyable.
I highly recommend this book.
I have yet to read his famous 1984 but I did read Animal Farm a while back which was...interesting.
How'd you like this? Should I do more non-YA book reviews? I do read a number of classics and adult books, just don't always take the time to review them.