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4.4 out of 5 stars
Down and Out in Paris and London (Penguin Modern Classics)
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
George Orwell felt awkward for being middle class, once he started to make a bit of money as an author this added to his awkwardness and he spent a lot of time in dank and impoverished surroundings.

This book is largely autobiographic, it tells of his time spent with the homeless. Orwell would pretend to be a tramp, not just pretend - he would live as a tramp from time to time. It was his time as a tramp that feed the ideas in this book.

Orwell writes about the camaraderie in the tramp community with warmth, you can feel his fondness for the people he is writing about.

The tramp experience covers only the second part of the book.

The first part describes the life of Parisian hotel/restaurant kitchen workers. It isn't glamorous. It is a life devoid of love, warmth, and happiness. Boris is the star of the "Paris" part of this book.

This is not only one of Orwell's finest pieces of work, it is a book that changes how you feel about life. When I read this book I was struggling financially - but this book put things in perspective, and I still imagine scenes in this book when times are hard.

The contrast between the "Paris" and "London" aspects of the book couldn't be more different, even though both are concerning that corner of society who seem to have nothing.

Read this book on the bus/train on the commute to work and you'll get lost in the dark visuals it inspires. The book had many place names and people's names removed for fear of being libellous, at first this seems clumsy but you get used to it.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2006
If ever there was a book deserving the title 'modern classic', this is it. A thought provoking and subtle collection of anecdotes that will make you laugh and out loud and balk at the extremes of poverty described in equal measure. The fact that Orwell avoides self indulgence and manages to evoke a genuine sense of compassion is truely remarkable and whatever your political orientation, having read this book it is hard to feel anything but respect for the man.

Despite its age, down and out still strikes a resonant chord in the modern world and while much has changed in the intervening years, there are still enough parralels with todays society to make you take stock of the world we live in.

I greatly enjoyed this book and recommend everyone to read it.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2003
One word to describe this book would be "grimy" although that does not convey the wonderful writing style of Orwell- perhaps "almost glamorous grime" would be better. Never have I read such a good book that describes the poverty, dirt and atmosphere of the early twentieth century. The café/hotel culture of Paris and sharing tiny rooms with an assortment of characters in Paris seems to come alive with wit and verve. Similarly the boarding houses and homeless hostels "spikes" in London are gloomier but no less interesting.
Orwell introduces us to many eccentric people without the sexual overstatement that flawed Miller's Tropic Of Cancer- also set in Paris. The detail of the work washing pots and cooking food in the bowels of hotels in France is an eye opener as is the treatment of the homeless in London. Among the day-to-day living Orwell gives us some fascinating facts such as the (lack of) hygiene in the most expensive Parisian restaurants and that there were almost no homeless females in the 1920's.
Orwell's style is always gripping and we can see the beginnings of what he was later to refine further into 1984 and Animal Farm among other works. This is an excellent read that I would recommend to all- it has a wonderful mix of character, style, atmosphere and fact that is irresistible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 1998
Most people are only familiar with Orwell through either Animal Farm or 1984, but Orwell has so much more to offer than just these two excellent books. Take Down and Out In Paris and London for example, it can be considered Orwell's first masterpiece as well as just his first book. In Down and Out In Paris and London the reader is given a glimpse at the dirty streets of both Paris and London in the 1930's, but through the unique eyes of Orwell. Not only does the reader see what it is to be "down and out" in these two world cities, but also the reader experiences why people become "down and out" through Orwell's narrative. We as readers learn that most of the people that are out on the street are not there by their own choice, but rather by the most unfortunate of circumstances. If one wants to experience Orwell, but not read the overread Animal Farm or 1984, read Down and Out In Paris and London because it is truly one of the early treats that Orwell produced. However, one must have an elementary background in French since many of the Paris scenes have French dialogue, and it would be most helpful to have this French knowledge to truly understand the book .
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2002
Orwell was ahead of his time, really, as his incredibly crisp and intelligent writing will show. Following his 'adventures' through abject poverty, he writes philosophically on his situation and with a very constructive and forgiving manner. He treats things more like an experiment than a terrible situation, his tone as if he did it all for a laugh. Mind you, some of the people who he meets are truly fascinating, in particular the through and through communist, who when totally drunk, becomes a straight faced patriot. Bozo, too, was a tragic figure, but a remarkable man with magnificent outlooks. Reading it made me feel like Orwell was still alive, just simple looking back on his days of youth with all the modern world around him. Instead, the rather depressing knowledge that everyone in that book is now dead. Orwell would have a interesting thing to say about that, I'm sure. One final word, the book is brilliant.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2013
The novel is unmistakeably autobiographic, in so far as Orwell himself once felt sufficient empathy with the poor and disenfranchised that he mingled on the streets with the homeless, even occasionally living as a tramp. The measure of his awkwardness with his own middle class background together with his eventual financial success is reflected in the genuine sympathy he shows of the bond between the tramp fraternity.

This contrasts with the unfeeling and harsh atmosphere he describes of kitchen workers in the hotels and restaurants of Paris, Boris being a memorable character. My only disappointment was with the pace of the book which, for the first two thirds or so tends to drag, although to be fair Orwell has to build his main protagonists and the tramp community which he describes in such detail.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2008
This is a beautiful piece of writing and a wonderful example of humanity. Orwell looks at some of the most downtrodden and neglected in society, lives with them and brings back this amazing document of their experiences and the elements that influence their lives. His gaze is crystal clear and his concern for these bedraggled souls is touching. An astounding book, please read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
First published in 1933, this was George Orwell’s first full length book which made it into print. Although it reads as though the events within it were concurrent, in fact much of the latter part of the book was published as an essay, titled, “The Spike,” while the author was in Paris. However, the fact that events do not necessarily follow the narrative, certainly does not invalidate the book, or the points that Orwell makes – sadly still very valid today.

The first half of the book sees Orwell in Paris. Although certainly not flush, he does not experience poverty until his meagre savings are stolen. Orwell’s aunt was, as we now know, in Paris at the time – although we do not know whether she helped him financially. Whether she did or not, it is certainly that he did experience financial hardship and that this led him to taking up work as a lowly dishwasher in hotels and restaurants. The scenes of hotel life are so vividly written that you have no problem imagining the organised chaos, sheer filth and wonderfully exotic characters that exist within the pages. Paris, at that time, had a huge Russian émigré population and Orwell is befriended by Boris, a Russian refugee and waiter. Through him, Orwell embarks on arduous attempts to find work. When work is finally obtained, the seventeen hour days, exhaustion and grinding work is offset by the possibility of eating regularly. Some of the characters in the Paris section of the book work so long that they seem trapped in kitchens and hotels around the city. If you go out for a meal after reading this book I will be very surprised!

In the book, Orwell returns to England after finally being driven to write to a friend to help him find work. When he arrives in London, he is lightly told that his employers had gone abroad for a month, but “I suppose you can hang on till then?” Of course, things did not happen quite this way – as we know, the London part of the book was written before the Paris section. Orwell was later to insist that the events within the book had taken place, albeit not in the order they are written here and it is not necessarily important that a little artistic tension is used to give the storyline a little tension.

The London section of the book sees Orwell living as a tramp in London. A real down and out, tramping from one hostel, or ‘spike’ to another. He shows the reality of that life – of being forced to move on constantly, because of rules which refused a man a bed two nights running, the way the tramps were forced into prayer meetings for a cup of tea and a bun, of their resentment and discomfort, of laws which meant the police could move tramps on if they were asleep and the general discomfort and filth they lived with.

This is moving journalism, which really presents a vivid portrait of a life on the edge. As Orwell points out, when funds are low panic sets in. When there is nothing, there is just existence from one meal to the next. He makes many valid points about how the poor are treated and how their life could be improved. Having just read a news report which suggested that so many people in Britain are reduced to using food banks due to problems with their benefit payments and punitive punishments, you have to sadly conclude that his conclusions about the treatments of people living in poverty are still more than valid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This seems to me to be one of the more personal of Orwell's books. Supposedly written from life experiences Orwell plunges us into the lives of those who have no homes and whose daily fight for existence on the streets is made more complex by a stifling social order, unsympathetic policemen and a charitable system which demands so much of those that it claims to help that it leaves them with less dignity than they started off with.

Orwell seems to have an affinity with the world of dirt and grime. He writes with gut wrenching realism about the simple details that most authors with a social axe to grind might forget. It is these details which allow you as the reader to become immersed in the horrors of the world he paints.

There is much sympathy here, which when compared to another classic tale of homelessness and its social problems, Jack London's People of the Abyss, is a welcome relief and another crucial 'in' into this world. This book should be read alongside The Road to Wigan Pier, another of Orwell's views of the lives of the poor. This has less of a political axe to grind, and in my opinion this makes it a better book, but you will not regret reading them both.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2013
Mr Orwell (Eric Blair) is one of Britain's finest authors. So what persuaded him to explore the world of the underclass? He even mentions Jack London in his book an author who, writing 30 or more years before, would have prepared him for his journey.

So, an Old Etonian, presumably with huge resources if only he had chosen to draw on them, decides to explore the world of those who sometimes have nothing and at other times live with enough to get through to the next day but on a diet that is so unhealthy as to be cruel.

I recently (2013) read an article in a national newspaper which said that there are now over 2,000 families living in B&Bs, exposing the cruelty of the welfare state of today.

Compare this to the conditions in the period between 1900 and 1936 and it looks as though these people are in the lap of luxury. They are not, of course, but reading Jack London and George Orwell it is unimaginable what suffering the poorer people went through and you need to understand it to appreciate the life we all live now.
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