Throughout 2012 I've been working my way through George Orwell's books, before coming to 'Down and Out in Paris and London' I've read 'Burmese Days', 'The Clergyman's Daughter', 'Coming Up For Air', 'Keep The Aspidistra Flying', and 'The Road To Wigan Pier'. In years gone by I've also read 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', 'Animal Farm' and 'Homage to Catalonia'. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that he's one of my favourite writers. In his essay Politics and the English Language (1946), Orwell wrote about the importance of precise and clear language, and provides six rules for writers:
* Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
* Never use a long word where a short one will do.
* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
* Never use the passive where you can use the active.
* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules inform his simple, economic and powerful style.
'Down and Out in Paris and London' was his first book and demonstrates how good he was from the word go. The book is a fictionalised memoir based on his experiences in the late 1920s as a tramp in and around London, and as a catering worker in the restaurants and hotels of Paris. Poverty informs many of his books, and he brilliantly evokes the lives of those people who, unlike Orwell, cannot escape. As with 'The Road To Wigan Pier' he also takes the opportunity to comment on his experiences and his conclusions of spending time with the people he has met.
His experiences in both cities are fascinating. The book contains social history, humour, insights, compassion and some wonderful anecdotes. Orwell also manages to bring those he meets to life - and what a motley bunch they are. People of different nationalities, varying temperaments, and diverse personalities. It's hard not to view homeless people in a very different way after reading this book, and whilst a lot has changed since the late 1920s, there is also much that is depressingly familiar.
If you're new to Orwell and you are tempted to read some of his books then I'd recommend you tackle them in the order they were published:
Down and Out in Paris and London
A Clergyman's Daughter
Keep the Aspidistra Flying
The Road to Wigan Pier
Homage to Catalonia
Coming Up for Air
They are all good and well worth reading. My personal favourites are Burmese Days and Coming Up for Air.
My personal Orwell journey will continue with his letters, diaries, essays and 'Books vs Cigarettes', before revisiting Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.