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on 26 April 2001
After reading his two most popular works, I thought this may be a disappointment. How wrong I was! The Paris half is a superb portrait- the stories of the Saturday night in the bar and the calamity of his various restaurants are especially memorable. The London half, despite not scaling the heights of the earlier section, is also interesting. Overall the contrast between these two European capitals works very well. Highly recommended.
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on 22 April 2009
This book is written from Orwell's real life experiences in the two cities of the title. It is quite gritty and hard but offers an invaluable portrayal of how the bare existence of many people in the large metropolises and has some relevance today. This is not perhaps Orwell's greatest work (that has to be 1984) but it is a work which is finely executed and offers an interesting foray into underclass life in the twenties.
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on 5 June 2010
I have read nearly everything by Orwell but this is by far my favourite!The imagery is so rich.The senses are tweaked all the time.I felt in some parts like I could directly smell what he described and could feel the heat in the kitchens.I really enjoyed this book because it takes you away to grimy, uncomfortable places you never want to be and when you close the book your safely home again!
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on 12 April 2013
I had a grandfather who went from riches to Rowton House because of his excesses and total disregard for the requirements of his family, and out again after many years back to the warmth of a wonderful, welcoming family home, so it pulled my heart strings and shocked my being to realise it doesn't matter where you come from when you reach depths of deprivation, you are equal. I think it's an enormous pity we are not all equal when everything is going well, that the divides in society seem so marked when social class - financial success, social position, etc etc raises its sometimes ugly head. The descriptions in the book are often so matter of fact and actual, with an acceptance of the situation, that its utter hopelessness could be missed. George Orwell's portrayal of this are shockingly amazing, or amazingly shocking. I will think about it for a very long time.
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on 16 March 2014
Not many ex-public school boys would have had the confidence and self denial to live as Orwell did, literally down and out and starving for brief periods as described in this book. His indifference to what others ,his peers and contemporaries felt , is also admirable. The book is of course marvellously written and the second part of the book which deals with the political reasons for the poverty and disease he witnessed is as relevant today as when written , the tragedy being that the middle classes, who differ from those of the 30's and 40's , still do not understand their exploitation by those who hold power, altho again the exploiters now differ to some extent (multinationals and bankers). Bankers were always around of course, but were much less greedy in that period.
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on 27 August 2002
My copy of this book is now a sorry, ragged mess.
Thanks to the tireless work of the British comprehensive system, I lacked the prerequisite sociolagy smarts to properly dissect and analyse the dated bi-partisan frictions of Communism and Fascism that so underpin most of Orwell's blah blah blah...
I always hated those dry academic prefaces at the beginning of every Orwell book. Thay always stood - like a pompous party bore - between me and another one of Mr Orwell's frank and funny guide books to that long vanished world of his.
And by God, what a bloody awful place it was!
Desperate poverty, grinding unemployment, a gloomy pecking order of class riddled britons - many of them hoping for a war - just to relieve the monotony and stagnation of their society.
Hardly your average Dean Koontz.
But the thing that always had me wanting to barge past that pedagogic party bore and hurry away into that poor, battered book - was Orwell's voice. How simply and beautifully he brought to life those long-gone people who populated that prosperity-free period - Boris the crippled waiter, Bozo the street screever (pavement artist to you and I) even Paddy - the self pitying Irishman, too cowardly with hunger to steal a bottle of milk from a step.
It wasn't long before I too could feel the rock-hard convex mattress that Orwell clung onto in some flea-pit Doss House.
And surely I could almost hear the drunken murmur of a Parisian bar, as Orwell and his fellow denizen dishwashers settled in for another night's conference - courtesy of the coarse African wine.
But I've rattled on long enough.
The upshot is: that the myriad of Orwell snobs out there will tell you that this is: 'a technically flawed piece' or: ' a work full of oddly endearing flaws'.
Flaws? What bloody flaws? Where? Show them to me!
Don't listen to that tosh. Buy this book. Be transported through time. Laugh with shocked disbelief - yes laugh - at the horror of it all - safe in the comfort of your 21st century - because none of these blokes tell you how funny Orwell is!
Not many of those literary Larrys ever bother to describe the wonderful way that Orwell brings such comic irony and razor-sharp observation to those people and the abominable social situations that he and his tramping companions had to gamely and bravely struggle through.
I guarantee that if you fall sway to my rantings and buy this book, you will soon possess a sorry, ragged mess of your own.
Or you could always buy the latest Dean Koontz...
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on 24 July 2013
Although I've read and enjoyed most of George Orwell's classic books I'd never got round to reading this one, his first major publishing success. For a comparitively serious subject it is very easy reading, Orwell bring his usual wry humour to bear very effectively. The Paris section is a very illuminating account of life at the bottom of working class society in the 1930s but the London section has a different feel to it, more that of a deliberate social experiment. It's evident that despite considerable hardship Orwell enjoyed this part of his life, and gave him great affection for life's strugglers
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 September 2015
Barbara Ehrenreich wrote the subject titled classic, with the subtitle of "Not getting by in America." For a year, she attempted to join the subclass of working Americans, mainly women, who are the waitresses and maids that are barely scratching out an existence in America. She admitted though, that she truly did not join the class, maintaining, for example, health insurance in case the need arose; something the subclass did not have as a backup. George Orwell, of 1984,Animal Farm: The Illustrated Edition (Penguin Modern Classics),Burmese Days (Penguin Modern Classics) fame, as well as others, truly was in the ranks of an even lower class, who would routinely go without food for periods of time, living on the very fringes of society, in the early 1930's. He never mentions the phrase "The Great Depression." It was simply the life of the time. He provides a graphic, realistic portrait of that existence, without any backup "safety nets."

The first half relates his time in Paris. He links up with Russian exiles, like Boris, who were obviously on the "White" side in the Russian civil war, which followed the Revolution. Orwell must pawn most of his clothes, as well as all other items of any value, always hoping to score some sort of menial job. Boris and he do succeed in becoming "plongeurs" (literally dishwashers, but also including all the other lowly duties of a "bus boy.") It is a scathing portrait of life in the cellars of the "grand" hotels, and should make anyone who plunks down the big francs to stay there take pause at the descriptions of the filth out of which those fancy meals arrive at their tables. It is a life of constant work, 18 or so hours a day. The hotel staff is extremely hierarchical, with rituals and demarcations that define one's "level." Orwell also describes their "recreation," the getting drunk on Saturday nights. Without any economic clot, they are the "prey" of virtually all others, being cheated this way and that, in the fashion of the "Pay Day" loan sharks of today.

The author provides an excellent final chapter on his Parisian section which compares the "plongeurs" life with slavery. A couple incisive observations: "Essentially, a `smart' hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want. If the nonsense were cut out of hotels and restaurants, and the work done with simple efficiency, "plongeurs" might work six to eight hours a day instead of ten or fifteen." And: "I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob."

Orwell decides to go back to England, and obtains a "patient caregiver" job... but it turns out it is 30 days in the future. He must survive that month, and adopts the life of a "tramp," moving from "spike" to "spike" which are homeless shelters, each with its unique rules and "character," but generally only offering one night accommodation, which cannot be repeated... thus, enforcing constant movement on the destitute class, hence "tramp." Many tramps are scouring the pavements for cigarette butts, and subsist on a diet of bread and margarine. Tens of thousands are in constant movement. Orwell provides sketches of a few fellow tramps, who are all men, and without any "prospects" for female companionship.

As he did with his Paris section, he provides an objective, analytical summation of the overall meaning of having such a class of people in society, and how they are regulated. The most haunting assessment, after reading two hundred pages on the life of the down and out, is: "At present I do not feel I have seen more than the fringe of poverty." For those summation sections, Orwell deserves a "plus" onto the 5-stars.
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on 9 January 2015
A brilliant and harrowing account of George Orwell's life during the periods he spent living in poverty abroad and in London.A trifle contrived concerning his return to England,following his departure from Paris,when according to the book,he went straight to London to live as a tramp,when in definite fact,he was supposed to have returned promptly to his parents home in Southwold,Suffolk, his experiences living among the poor and destitute in London,were as true as those among the larger than life characters in Paris,and is described in a vivid and unflinchingly honest fashion,that was deeply radical and brazen for the time it was written,but still resonates today.If it was a partly fictionalized biography,it at least seems to have at least gone to produce a clear and compelling chronicle of awful life in the 1920s and 30s.

I have to say,I preferred the chapters when he was in London to those about Paris.Despite graphically depicting his almost unimaginable poverty among it's outrageous characters in all their sickening depravity and squalor to realistic effect,they don't seem to have the sanguine and clear-cut authority when describing the down-and-outs and work houses of London.They contained a simple clarity compared to the more turbulent and perhaps exaggerated life of the scoundrels and rogues of bohemian Paris,that was more immediate and powerful.The descriptions of the Parisians seemed to be have been recounted as detailed fact by comparison.

Although not as powerful and stunning as his famous later book,"The Road to Wigan Pier",Orwell's views on socialism and oppression that have endeared him to the world,can be seen to have been developed here,and that is what makes the book important.
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on 2 June 2013
This short book provides vivid descriptions of poverty in two of the world's major cities in the period between the World Wars. Orwell describes his experiences as a dishwasher in Paris hotels and as a tramp in London. He takes us through the slow descent as pounds turn to shillings and shillings to pennies and he pawns ragged clothes in exchange for ones in still poorer condition. I never before fully understood the origins of the word "tramp" until reading how those without a roof were forced by the state authorities to spend every night in a different hostel ("spike") .

Although the deprivations and their effects on the dignity of people transcend national boundaries, I found the different manifestations of poverty between France and England to be fascinating. In France there is shouting, bawdy celebration, contestation and chaos whilst in England there is trudging, quiet and grim acceptance. The French spend their last "sou" on red wine and baguette, the English their last penny on "tea and two slices" of limp white bread and margarine. Having lived for extended periods in both countries, both ring true and represent strengths and weaknesses depending on the context.

Of course this is a classic text and there is little one can say that is new. However, if nothing else, a modern reader must see the dangers of an eroded social support network for those who dip under the bar of hardship and poverty. Here the message comes through with pathos, gentleness and humour.
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