Ey up! We’ve not done a book podcast before, so it’s time to destroy that anomaly with… a book podcast!
Specifically, one of the most important books we read in our formative years. That being Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, which we read for the first time when we were 17.
It helped transform out concept of books (fiction and non-fiction) with a new sense of what was possible over literary norms. Plus, it’s a fantastic book!
MoroniCast: Down and Out in Paris and London’s Working Class Underbelly
MoroniCast Episode #15: Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London – MoroniCast: The Moronic Podcast
Previously, on Professional Moron’s other blog, we did a big old detailed review of Down and Out in Paris and London.
This podcast is a little different. We’re explaining how this non-fiction work came to be in our lives, plus its impact on our writing style:
- The equilibrium free structure of the autobiographical account.
- How nothing much happens, in the grand scheme of things.
- Orwell’s compassionate accounts of working class drudgery.
- Recounting anecdotes in a charming and intelligent way.
- Structuring a story like this so it isn’t self-absorbed and all about yourself.
At the time of its publication, in 1933, it was Orwell’s first work.
At the time, he intended it as an investigative journalism piece—an exposé on the evils of capitalism and industry. But the book is now also a fascinating time capsule into life in two major cities back in the 1920s.
In many respects, it’s the 1920s version of Bruce Robinson’s Withnail & I, a film that was first intended to be a novel.
Launched in 1987, it’s set in London of 1969. And some themes from Orwell’s work are there:
- Youthful hedonism.
- Drunken despair.
- Employment issues.
That’s a summary of Withnail & I, but you can also apply it to Down and Out in Paris and London.
But asides from its social critique, it is just a fantastic book. We’ve just leant it recently to someone at work who’s loved it—such is the appeal of the work almost 90 years after its publication.
It is, in fact, the one book we give to people to read if they say they don’t like reading. Only one person we gave it to came back to us saying they couldn’t get beyond page one.
Why is it so accessible? Definitely its ease of prose helps. Orwell’s six rules of writing were to simplify English to avoid sounding pretentious. One of his rules is to always use a small word instead of a big one.
Down and Out isn’t Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which is almost impenetrable to even hardy English enthusiasts. Whereas Orwell offers a clear as daylight, endearing, charming, and weirdly life-affirming account of a young man trying to make ends meet in a major city.
Sitting back and reading it may remind you of your formative years, slogging away in some bar somewhere (as we did in Manchester city centre back in 2008). A thankless job, but character building.
And the Parisian section of the work is joyous to read. You come out of it riveted and excited to return to this world of Hotel X and its weird happenings.
But we had to think why it’s joyous.
As the book is about poverty and details the relentless nature of working class drudgery. But Orwell’s brilliance as a storyteller makes it work, detailing the muck, rats, pompous chefs, and his journey through it all in affable spirits.
A youthful sense of acclimatisation, with a stoic and level-headed ability to recount it all later in a manner that’s so timeless.
That’s why we love the book. It isn’t Orwell’s best work. But for many readers, it’ll be their absolute favourite.