The book was first published in 1933.
After the various ordeals of unemployment and near-starvation Orwell begins working long hours as a plongeur in the 'Hotel X' and describes in chapter XIV the frantic and seemingly chaotic workings of the hotel as he understands it. He goes on to talk of his routine life as one of the working poor in Paris: slaving and sleeping, then drinking on Saturday night until the early hours of Sunday morning - the 'one thing that made life worth living' for some of the unmarried men of the quarter. In chapter XVI Orwell mentions a murder that was committed outside the hotel where he stays 'just beneath my window'. '[T]he thing that strikes me in looking back', he says, 'is that I was in bed and asleep within three minutes of the murder... We were working people and where was the sense of wasting sleep over murder?'
Orwell is briefly penniless again when he and Boris quit their hotel jobs to take work at a new restaurant, the 'Auberge de Jehan Cottard', where Boris feels sure he will be a waiter again. (At the hotel he had been doing lower grade work.) But Boris tells Orwell the patron, 'an ex-colonel of the Russian Army,' seems to have financial difficulties - Orwell is not paid for ten days and spends a night on a bench rather than face his landlady over rent. 'It was very uncomfortable - the arm of the seat cuts into your back - and much colder than I had expected.'
At the restaurant Orwell finds himself working 'seventeen and a half hours' a day 'almost without a break' and looking back wistfully at his relatively leisured and orderly life at the Hotel X. Boris works even longer: 'eighteen hours a day, seven days a week'. 'Such hours', he explains, 'though not usual, are nothing extraordinary in Paris.' He falls into a routine again and talks of literally fighting for a place on the Paris Metro to reach the 'cold, filthy kitchen' of the restaurant by seven.
In one of the final chapters on his life in Paris, Orwell considers the life of a plongeur:
This is a good example of Orwell's socialism during this period.
All this is interspersed with recounted anecdotes told by some of the minor characters such as Valenti, an Italian waiter at the hotel where Orwell worked, and Charlie, 'one of the local curiosities' who is 'a youth of family and education who had run away from home'.
Until his employer returns, Orwell lives as a tramp, sleeping in 'spikes.' These were dismal compounds where tramps could sleep for free but were obliged to move on. They couldn't stay at the same spike more than once a month or stay in any London spike more than twice a month. Characters in this section of the book include the Irish tramp Paddy and the pavement artist Bozo.
At the end of his 'down and out' period, Orwell comes to a powerful realization: