Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

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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.

 

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

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Blurb: ‘EVERY DAY THE SAME. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.’ Goodreads.com

★★

Read this book if your friend lends it to you, or if you’re going on a very long flight, or have just read Anna Karenina and need some light relief. Don’t believe that this is the most ‘anticipated read of the year’ or the ‘bestselling worldwide blockbuster novel’, because it’s just a plain old thriller. It’s a good, but overhyped summer read.

The plot is solid, and I read it in 1 day which does lend some credit to its readability and enjoyment factor. It revolves around Rachel Watson, a woman who passes the same house, in her old neighbourhood, every day on the train, and gets far too involved in things she shouldn’t. She’s a depressing protagonist, as are the people around her, and I’m not sure that’s not just because they’ve been badly written – there seemed to be absolutely no variation in the ‘type’ of person Hawkins writes about. I found myself literally predicting what was going to happen next in this book and basically worked out the end. If you like books that include characters you will loathe, read this novel!!! (it’s similar to Gone Girl in this way)

The fact that I thought that the writing was bad (to be honest), doesn’t really matter because it does have a gripping storyline so you can kind of put Hawkins’ overused cliches into the back of your mind. I enjoyed it, but this is the kind of book I feel guilty about reading afterwards as I feel like I’ve lost a few brain cells (sorry)

 

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

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‘In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colourful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’

★★★

This book is a thorough and complete study of all things people and the peaks and troughs of life and love. Despite being written in the late 19th C, it’s way before it’s time, and contrary to what everyone thinks when they hear ‘Russian literature’ or ‘Tolstoy’ which is usually along the lines of ‘oh god’ this book is impressively easy to read.

In a nutshell, it’s the story of a Anna, who’s passions for another man lead to her inevitable downfall. You know from the start the only possible ending for her, making it a pretty painful read. Can Anna fully estrange herself from her husband and son and start again with the attractive Count Vronsky? Probably not. Will she ever be accepted into Russian society without being branded a ‘fallen woman’? Of course not, that wouldn’t be exciting at all.

This is the mother of the modern novel and just to call it ‘Anna Karenina’ is the tip of the iceberg, as Tolstoy follows the entire network of relationships that surround her, and coupled with the detailed storyline of Levin, a clear reflection of Tolstoy himself, makes for an intricately woven book with about ten different main characters.Levin represents the future of Russia, the birthings of a communist environment, whilst Anna and her relations showcase the expensive living of the Moscow and St Petersburg circles. However, if there is one lesson in this book, it’s that money and success never equal happiness; anyone can get their heart broken and their life torn apart by the most primal of emotions – desire.

You can tell Tolstoy not only places importance on the love and attractive downfall of Anna’s life, as the book is interspersed with long analysis of peasant – or ‘muzhik’ – life and farming, providing a social and economic commentary which would have been far more relevant at the time of publication. Nevertheless, it provides a contrast to the turmoil of the Karenins, and certainly from a historical point of view lends an insight into the beginnings of a communist Russia. Although I have a soft spot for Levin and his country-dwelling, peasant-loving ways, these long passages are not integral to the plot – don’t be put off! These lulls in the plot are contrasted with unbelievable highs which make up for some of the intense pieces of writing I’ve ever read.