‘A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.’
Reading Ages: 12+
Category: Biographical Non-Fiction
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
Down and Out in Paris and London is so full of witty and lively observation that at times it can take a reader by surprise with its moments of thoughtfulness and reflection.
George Orwell is a master of creating a true sense of a scene: as he moves through his world, slumming in the back streets of Paris and the alleyways of London, we our constantly surrounded by vivid and startlingly realistic settings and characters, sweeping through his day-to-day life. The book is sectioned into small, manageable chapters that seem to accurately portray the almost journal-like style of writing as well as making each moment and stepping stone of his journey complete and perfectly-formed in their succinctness.
While it can get wordy sometimes, the prose is generally smooth and easy to follow, save for a number of colloquial period terms. Orwell adapts his writing to accommodate accents, different languages and characters, and he has the uncanny ability to breathe life into every person we are introduced to. He admits himself that there is no real ‘story’ to the book, but within the text there are many smaller tales to be found – those of strangers and friends – which often linger in the mind.
Furthermore, Orwell is direct and clear in his description, never making his way around a phrase awkwardly, or leaving the reader ostensibly confused by an obscure metaphor. This style makes the often very densely factual and contextual points in the prose far easier to navigate. Additionally, his observations, quiet and unobtrusive, give us a sense of joint pensiveness; at no point does he force the reader to accept his personal views as fact.
The stark reality of life as one of the lowest members of society and what staying alive in this condition entails is pictured through the crystal clear description of Orwell’s writing. It is absorbing and thrillingly recounted with real flare.
Overall, Orwell’s command of language and style make Down and Out one of the best sources of information for life in 1920s when one is hard up: there is an extremely striking portrait of social psychology as well as of the cities of London and Paris at that time. A quick and enlightening read that squeezes every drop out of its five stars.