Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

About the book

George Orwell’s vivid memoir of his time living among the desperately poor and destitute, Down and Out in Paris and London is a moving tour of the underworld of society.

‘You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.’

Written when Orwell was a struggling writer in his twenties, it documents his ‘first contact with poverty’. Here, he painstakingly documents a world of unrelenting drudgery and squalor – sleeping in bug-infested hostels and doss houses of last resort, working as a dishwasher in Paris’s vile ‘Hôtel X’, surviving on scraps and cigarette butts, living alongside tramps, a star-gazing pavement artist and a starving Russian ex-army captain. Exposing a shocking, previously-hidden world to his readers, Orwell gave a human face to the statistics of poverty for the first time – and in doing so, found his voice as a writer.

Reviewed by Museum

For most of us this was a re-read after a period of many years. We were still impressed by Orwell’s commitment and his sharp and lucid prose – but with an average age well over70 we found it fascinating to look back on changes in our knowledge of other social classes and the progress in food hygiene! We also opened a sympathetic thought for Mrs Blair. Eric must have been a sore trial to a woman with a French- Colonial background”

star rating ****

 

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Pure by Andrew Miller

About the book

A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests. A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love… A year unlike any other he has lived. Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.

At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.

Reviewed by The Olive Tree

“A very good read and liked by all the group. A very well written account of a little known event, intriguing, and an evocative picture of 18th Century characters

star rating ****

 

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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

About the book

Paris, 1895: an army officer, Georges Picquart, watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of a baying crowd. Dreyfus is exiled for life to Devil’s Island; Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down. But when Picquart discovers that secrets are still being handed over to the Germans, he is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption that threatens not just his honour but his life…

Reviewed by Enjoying Books

“This erudite author writes beautifully. A true story of the Dreyfus Affair, told through the character of Picquart. It gathers momentum as you are drawn into the awful miscarriage of justice”

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Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

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About the book

In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. Némirovsky’s death in Auschwitz in 1942 prevented her from seeing the day, sixty-five years later, that the existing two sections of her planned novel sequence, Suite Française, would be rediscovered and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Suite Française is a novel that teems with wonderful characters struggling with the new regime. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Reviewed by  Enjoying Books Reading Group:

Unusual book – wonderful prose, a great insight into French life during the war. Beautifully drawn characters.

Star rating: ****

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