Blurb: 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.
Favourite quote: I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels,nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny,nor subscribe to the Salvation Army,nor pawn my clothes,nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant.That is a beginning.
This book is often called the most underrated of Orwell’s works – and it so is! It’s a (somewhat emphasised) nonfiction account of his brief stint in poverty during the 1930s, first in Paris, and then in London (hence the title). With gutwrenching candour, he describes how he lives on pennies per week, often going without food for days, battling with 15 hour work days and bug infested beds. It’s very short, and reads more like an essay than a novel – and it needs not be any longer than it is, as you get the idea pretty quickly. I can’t believe that every detail is true to Orwell’s life – but even if 20% is true, then I feel pretty sorry for the guy. I felt hungry just reading this book, but his flowing prose and pretty accurate views on working in the catering industry helped me through.
I wouldn’t say that this book is ‘triggering’ for those that live in poverty, nor would I say that it’s an unbearable read due to its brutal honesty about living with nothing. This book was written a good 90 years ago, and I’d like to think the social welfare programs of both the UK and France provide a less vomit inducing backdrop to poverty. Orwell colours this book with so many different personalities and characters that its a thoroughly enjoyable read – although I would say it’s helpful to have a nice bubble bath to go sit in after you read it.