I recently decided that I’m going to read all of George Orwell’s works this year. I’ve already read 1984 and Animal Farm (which I loved) and decided this would be the first book of his I tackled this year.
Down and Out in Paris and London is semi-autobiographical. It’s about the time Orwell spent in Paris and London out of work. Apparently the events described happened, but not in the order they’re related.
Firstly it tracks his time in Paris in the early 1900’s when he’s out of work and struggling to survive. He not only captures the harshness of poverty, but tells some very personal tales about the people he meets, making the book more human. During the latter section of this first part he secures work in a restaurant and describes the workings of such an establishment. He also relates the harshness of work as a plongeur (as he was) and the hierarchical structure.
At roughly halfway through he travels to London, his home, under the promise of a job. However, this job is delayed by a month and he subsequently has to survive thirty days in poverty.
The degradation and harshness of poverty was fully explored, but related in sparse prose meaning that it was always readable, even though it was emotionally charged. This sparse style is what made it so readable, but also its downfall as I felt removed at times.
I loved how vile circumstances were made more palatable by the addition of human stories. These stories were at times hilarious and heartfelt.
Orwell, being known for his political views, advocated his own solution to part of the poverty problem, informed by what he witnessed in London. It was nice to see how he would tackle societal problems as it gave more of an indication of Orwell the man.