An autobiographical study, Down and Out in Paris and London follows Orwell as he tramps around both Paris and London. Pawning his belongings to buy food, unemployment, drinking heavily and jostling for a place in homeless hostels are but a few of the experiences related with candour and insight in this unabridged exclusive audiobook. Orwell was arguably one of the first 'gonzo' journalists.
In this unabridged, enlightening and often shocking expose of life on the streets of two of Europe's most romanticised and celebrated cities, Orwell describes in detail the day-to-day life of a 'down-and-out', which involves hunger, filth, derision and often prejudice and violence. Alcohol is also a staple distraction on both sides of the channel for the destitute, and Orwell's comments on issues such as the emasculation of a man when he becomes a tramp (women see him as 'less than' a man and will not interact with him) are truly fascinating.
©1933 George Orwell Estate; (P)2009 CSA Word
Orwell specialises in writing reportage, which gives details of his life experiences. His writing style is direct and as clear as looking through a pane of glass. His experiences working in hotels in London and Paris are at times grim, but his sense of humour shines through. Not as well known as Animal Farm and 1984 but still a tour de force.
OK, here is why I did not like this book:
This is touted as a book of fiction with strong autobiographical elements. So if Orwell is presenting a book of fiction I want characters who engage me. I want a bit of a story. I want good descriptive writing. This novel fails on these points. It reads as a report. It is instead the direct retelling of Orwell’s experiences when he was down and out trying to survive in the slums first of Paris and then later in London. Probably the 1920s.. He had no money – at times, not even a few centimes. No job, no home, no clothes, no sleep – only hunger and cold and bugs. I am telling you his situation was m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e! He delivers a minute by minute account of his days as a dishwasher and as a homeless bum when he didn’t even have dishwashing. I do sympathize with him and his comrades’ plight, but if Orwell wanted to present this as a novel then the characters should draw me in. This is not the nature of the book; it is a report of what he saw and experienced.
So, if this is a report then I must judge how that report is delivered. I disliked elements of this report:
-the author’s anti-Semitic views
-the concluding analysis of how the homeless’ situation should be improved
-and in a report one need not include numerous verbatim emotional outbursts filled with expletives.
I do believe Orwell’s experiences could have been turned into a novel about the life of people working in restaurants, cooks and waiters and yes the dishwashers too. The homeless and the foreign exiles. It could have made a marvelous novel, but what is delivered here is half novel and half memoir, neither one nor the other.
Jeremy Northam narrated the audiobook I listened to. Set in the slums of both London and Paris there are numerous foreign exiles and thus numerous dialects. The only dialects that felt genuine were the British ones. The Russian dialect was ridiculously fake. The French was off too, and half of the book is set in Paris!
Really, I did want to give this at least two stars because the plight of the lowest of low in the slums of Paris and London is clearly depicted, but my honest feeling toward this book is one of dislike. So one star it is.
Read Homage to Catalonia or Animal Farm instead. They are better.
This was Eric Arthur Blairs first book. I had read Road to Wigan Pier previously. The books have a very similar style. The difference is in the depth of poverty Orwell describes. (specifically starving to death in Paris and as a tramp in England) He makes no attempt to convince you of the evil that poverty is or the misplaced justification which we use to treat the poor as deficient or sub-human.
It appears to me that Orwells political views were unformed at the time of this first book. Little political commentary exists. His writing is honest in his own view. His opinion that a man who had confessed to a double murder was a throughly decent chap, innocent and yet ironic.
If you would like to appreciate a new the rich lives we live. Read this book.
Good, well narrated book. The narrator did some great impersonations of the characters in the book. Very talented man.
A great combination of an excellent book read by a great narrator. I'd highly recommend this particular recording - very, very entertaining. The narration is brilliant.
"A worth-while listen"
Before listening to ?Down & Out? I had already ready 1984 and Animal Farm of Orwell?s other works (both excellent). This book differs from them in that it is largely autobiographical, inter-dispersed with elements of social commentary for which all of Orwells? books are famous. This biographical nature does add a certain intrigue to the book and gives it a depth and validity that would otherwise be lacking. It is at times shocking, but also quite enlightening and at times heart-warming. However, one can?t help but have the feeling that he was merely a ?tourist? in this situation and that he could at any time have got himself out of it if he so chose. In this vein, I saw the book as verging on being condescending to the very people that it tries so hard to humanise for us. He points out that tramps are normal people in every sense, but are merely down on their luck. He also points out the total ineffectiveness of the state in dealing with these people. His aim throughout is to show that ?tramps? deserve respect and help, but it is difficult to escape the knowledge of who the author is and that he is in that situation largely out of choice and not really ?Down and Out?. I don?t want to imply that it is not a good book ? it is ? it?s just that I found it more of an ?outsiders? perspective. Still, worth a listen (especially if you are a fan of his other works).
"Masterful reading of this modern classic."
Superb reading by a supremely talented British actor, who brings the characters to life and makes Orwell's prose and phrasing sing.
"Great autobiographical listen"
I found the content and style fascinating although it is hard to determine how much of it applies to modern tramps. The character Bozo was pretty inspiring.
"Stick to the paperback"
It's very rare for me to find an audiobook I wish I hadn't bought, but this is it. And the stupid thing is, I should have known it before I clicked 'buy'. Why? Because buying a book you've read a dozen times will probably always disappoint because it can't live up to the characters and settings conjured up in your imagination.
Added to this is Jeremy Northam's cringe-inducing French and Russian accents. I wish he'd just read the lines instead of trying to bring the characters to life; he ends up killing them. It's not just that his 'foreign accent' talents are about as bad as Raph Fiennes' stomach curdling 'Amon Goeth' in Schindlers' List, it's that he doesn't have the right voice or diction for this work. Sorry, Jeremy!
The result is an audiobook I'm not likely to listen to again. Next time I want to submerge myself in the life of a penniless Paris plongeur in the 20's, I'll pull the well-worn paperback off the shelf and read that again instead.
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