George’s Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is no doubt a well-written and interesting novel, suffering from some several flaws that hand over it like a miasma. First and foremost, when the narrator reviews to Jews, any Jew, he simply called him “the Jew” as if that label says it all. “The Jew” is nearly always devious, avaricious, and just plain unsavory. Here is Orwell writing in the 1930s, catching the wave of anti-Semitism that would end in freight trains and gas chambers. Reading such passage mar this book deeply. But to be fair, he often makes sweeping generalization about nationalities, especially those from the south and east of Europe, no doubt as unsavory and easy to characterize in one word like “the Pole” as is “the Jew.”
When Orwell (or to be fair, his narrator) let’s go of these concerns, the book takes off. The best sections involves the restaurants in Paris. There, events take care of themselves, and there is not the cool detachment and prejudice guiding the flow of events.
But by the end, when the narrator joins homeless men in London, the off putting detachment resumes, and we see the point of the novel. The narrator is to become our inside man in the underbelly of society. He is to show us how the men who live on tea and two slices exist. But the air of detachment and singular lack of connection and warmth toward these poor men make the observations he makes cold and cruel. One gets the feeling Orwell’s narrator cares as much about homeless men as the Jews.
This book could ruin a young person who reads it at the wrong time in their formative years, or in a bad frame of mind (I know of one example). This novel romanticizes poverty. It makes the difficulties of life into a petty game. There is nothing romantic about poverty. It is a mean and difficult life.