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George Orwell: Down and Out In Paris and London

March 14, 2010


The only books I ever knew from Orwell, real name Eric Blair, were the obvious; his Stalinist nightmare Nineteen Eighty Four and the surreal, Animal Farm. I was told to read this book as I’m following a trail of breadcrumbs in travelling books.

Down and Out in London and Paris is an autobiographical account of a life immersed in poverty on both sides of the channel. It was brilliantly mislabeled ‘Fiction’ when it was first published thus giving it a broad appeal however it seems to have slipped from mainstream reading lists. Dire mistake. This could be the British precursor to On the Road, however without the women and the wild, American optimism and pulling power of Sal Paradise and Moriarty. We traipse, journey and weave our way through the heaving, noisy and the drunk streets of Paris and their bustling hotels and hostels where rent, the next meal and the congregation of people living, sometimes joyously, hand-to-mouth transform their way to the quiet, formal and migratory living of British vagrants, forced to move continuously on a ‘tea-and-two-slices’ diet. Orwell’s youthful, optimisitic, highly vivid recollections of the people he meets, the money he spends and the beginning of the thought process of the way he sees society works; we realise, nothing has changed at all.

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