Saturday, April 09, 2005

Down & Out in Paris & London

After the scary and sinister 1984, I didn't expect George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London to be so funny. Don't worry, it has depressing aspects to it as well. But Orwell can see the humor in the lives of drunken, dead tired dishwashers and others behind the scenes in restaurants and hotels. Throughout, he argues, directly or indirectly, that these people financially at the bottom of society aren't fundamentally different from everyone else and deserve to be treated better. But I think he could keep his sense of humor largely because he was educated, which made him not really one of these people; he always had an avenue of escape from poverty, should he decide to take it. (He more or less admits this toward the end.) Anyway, the book is funny (at least when he's in Paris and has money and time to go occasionally to cheap bistros and drink); the Paris part is The Jungle of the restaurant and hotel world; and it's a fascinating glimpse into the genesis of Orwell as a political satirist.

Friday, April 01, 2005


David Mitchell is all the rage here in England. His latest novel—Cloud Atlas, which I got obsessed with—is in the chain-store windows and was a Booker Prize finalist. Like that book, Ghostwritten is a collection of interlinked stories with a common theme: all life is chance, but guided by laws we can only discern dimly. This one got missed for the Booker lists, and one reviewer said Mitchell's chaotic second novel, Number9 Dream, got shortlisted for the prize not on its own merits but because the committee felt bad they'd missed his first book. But I'm going to give Number9 a try. He's now officially one of my favorite authors.