Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

This memoir by George Orwell was quite a grim yet interesting read. It’s Eric Blair’s (aka Orwell) experiences as a casual kitchen labourer in Paris and as a tramp in London. There were a few disturbing moments and quite a number of depressing ones.

It was not easy to read but strangely fascinating owing to it being well written. Blair has a way of painting the characters he meets. The Paris section reads like a dark comedy. I understand there is some debate about how factual the book is. It does read like fiction in many ways. However, it also has elements of being stranger than fiction. I could believe it and it’s almost frightening how dirty and rough life could be for the down and out in the past. There was some good social history and commentary. In some respects, I think I like this book more than reading 1984. It has been almost 20 years since I read 1984, but I do remember it being similarly grimy and dreary. However, this memoir has more interesting characters as it were.

I know that Blair played around with the sequence events and that he truly was not a homeless person and didn’t need to be a tramp in the London section. I found the Paris section more realistic in terms of how he described his work and his constant undernourishment. His musings on poverty and work throughout the book was thought provoking as well. It echoes some of my own views about work and being efficient and profitable.

I would not read this book again but it was a a fascinating and well written book. I would have said the same even if it was a completely fictional book.

Read Feb 7-9, 2021.

2 comments

  1. Iza says:

    I bought that one recently because I’ve been reading a (French) comic adapted from Animal farm and loving it, it made me want to rediscover Orwell. Thought provoking, you said, I’m counting on it – good review !

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