Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Down and Out in Paris and London (38/81)

Category: Non-Fiction

I read Animal Farm and 1984 years ago and loved them both, but somehow was never drawn to any of Orwell’s other work. But I was glad I took a chance on this book.

It is based on the author’s own experiences before he was famous, working in the restaurant trade in Paris and being homeless in London. Despite the subject matter, it was a surprisingly easy read, testament to Orwell’s skill as a writer. Although his poverty was only temporary, his empathy with the eternally destitute is real and his tone is never patronising.

In the first section on Paris, he describes in detail how one can live on a meagre number of francs, and provides an in-depth account of Paris’ restaurant trade, which treats its hierarchy that treats its lowly staff terribly, but provides some interesting anecdotes here.

In the second part of the book, Orwell moves to London, where the promised job falls through and he finds himself homeless. The tone here is darker, as he is living amongst people who are often without hope, but it is still graced with brilliant characters and some astute insights. I particularly enjoyed the section on the evolution of swear words.

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