Monday, June 18, 2018

On the Coffee Table: George Orwell

Title: Down and Out in Paris and London
Author: George Orwell
Orwell is, of course, best known for his fiction classics, 1984 and Animal Farm.   This was my first experience with the author beyond those.  Down and Out in Paris and London was his first full-length work.  First published in 1933, the book is a memoir of the author's relatively brief experiences with poverty, first in Paris, then in London.

During his Paris adventure, the narrator eventually finds work in the restaurant industry, first in a large hotel, then in a newly opened establishment.  This material is, as my wife, expert in both reading and cooking, puts it, one of the cornerstones of food writing.  The pirate ship atmosphere of the professional kitchen would be familiar to anyone who has read more recent cook memoirs.  It would seem little has changed over the decades since, though I rather hope stricter enforcement of health regulations have had some impact.  In London, the narrator lives as a tramp for several weeks, moving from one wretched shelter to the next as his means allow and the law requires.  In both cities, his descriptions of the pathetic squalor of life among the poor are vivid and memorable.  The fun is in the colorful characters he encounters along the way.  It's Orwell so, naturally, there is plenty of social commentary on offer, too.

One recent writer who specifically cited the influence of this book on his own work was, of course, Anthony Bourdain.  Kitchen Confidential was my own introduction to food lit and I would still rate it among the best books I've ever read.  My wife and I went to see Bourdain at a book signing in New York in what must have been 2001 and were big fans of his TV travel shows for years.  Bourdain obviously didn't invent the foodie movement of the late '90s and early aughts but he is the guy who made it cool for the alterna-crowd of my generation.  For me, he was an inspiration as a writer, a traveler and a food enthusiast.

May he rest in peace.


  1. I am sorry about Anthony Bourdian even though on a few of his Japanese
    and Korean shows I though he miss a point or two. No matter what, he was always interesting and I enjoyed his trips, food and the people he talked to.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. He had deep respect for all of the cultures he visited, even if he didn’t understand them perfectly.