George Orwell, ‘Down and out in London and Paris’
A memoir of Orwell’s time in poverty before he became a famous writer. This book reminds me very much of ‘Junky’ by William Burroughs, although ‘Junky’ was written after this. Both books attempt to describe the lives of a caste of society that is outside the projected norm, both deal with the vernacular of the day, along with many other similarities. Much as I love ‘Junky’ though, ‘Down and out’ is clearly the better book as Orwell portrays his companions and situations rather more sympathetically and humanely than does Burroughs. It’s cast are genuine eccentrics rather than damaged drug-addicts and are much more likeable, and the juxtaposition of poor life in the two cities is an interesting comparison. Orwell throws in some serious sociological analysis about the poor and clearly despises the lifestyle not just beause he is forced into reduced circumstances, but also on behalf of those forced to live it. Also, the section on slang and swearing is interesting, as Orwell suggests that somebody should monitor London slang from year to year to chart it’s mutations. This is a book about being poor that is not written by a voyeur, but someone who had no other choice but to live the life, yet still used used the opportunity to produce some serious observation and analysis rather than revelling in the novelty of squalor.