It is much better than The Road to Wigan Pier, much livelier, more characterful, more a collection of good stories than a tedious political tract as that is. I shall read it to the end, it is certainly worth it, but it suffers from the same problems as his other autobiographical works- a lack of self-awareness and of genuine insight.
He is not working class and he never could be. He works hard at the restaurants in Paris, very hard indeed when he can get a job, and he suffers hardship when he can't. But it's all a game to Orwell. It's a bit of fun to placate his existential boredom and his bourgeois guilt. At the very most it's a kind of research. When he decides he can take no more he writes to England and asks someone to find him a comfortable job as a private secretary to someone or other. And that's it. He's bored with the game and goes back to his real life. Just like in Spain when after a few months he's had enough of the war and just goes back to England and gets on with his life.
He deals almost entirely with people like himself, broken-down foreign bourgoisie. He never chooses the company of the French working class, who he is so despetately trying to pretend he is like and understands better than anyone else. He either sneers at them- the landlords trying to make ends meet, the cooks and waiters at the restaurant making a living, taking pride in doing their job well, are enemies in the parochial little world he doesn't realize he's retreated into- or he charicatures them through the people and behaviours he describes seeing in the bars.
I was reminded by a scene he describes in a bar on a Saturday, where a brief moment of timeless joy and power gives way to the inevitable maudlin drunkenness and hangover. He says it was probably worth it. It reminded me of a black character in Faulkner's 'The Rievers', who says, 'If you could only be a nigger one Saturday night, you wouldn't want to be a white man again as long as you live.'
He is particularly blind when wondering what the life of a plongeur is for. He compares it disfavourably with the work of a miner, whose product is needed by other people. He doesn't seem to realize that if restaurants weren't wanted they wouldn't exist (unlike coal which was mined for political reasons at public expense for decades after it had ceased to be wanted in any quantity. I wonder if Orwell would have agreed with that business, or if he would acknowledged it was happening).
People like to eat well without having to cook or clean, when they can afford to do so. Working men need to earn a living. Competent businessmen, restaurateurs- and anyone who wants to take a chance can be one, after all- satisfy both of those needs at once, while benefitting themselves at the same time. It is silly to ask for what purpose a plongeur works 15 hours a day. The purpose is the same for which any man works, to fill his belly. It is even sillier to claim, as he does, that there is some kind of conspiracy of the wealthy to keep the poor toiling senselessly, for fear they might otherwise want to share in their wealth.
It's a good read, illuminating on many aspects of poverty that most of us have probably never known or even thought about.