Monday 8 June 2020

Book Review: The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola (Classic)

The Belly of Paris

Author: Emile Zola
Publisher: Oxford World Classics
Publication Date: 2009 (1873)
Xmas Gift


Unjustly deported to Devil's Island following Louis-Napoleon's coup-d'etat in December 1851, Florent Quenu escapes and returns to Paris. He finds the city changed beyond recognition. The old Marche des Innocents has been knocked down as part of Haussmann's grand program of urban reconstruction, replaced by Les Halles, the spectacular new food markets. Disgusted by a bourgeois society whose devotion to food is inseparable from its devotion to the Government, Florent attempts an insurrection. Les Halles, apocalyptic and destructive, play an active role in Zola's picture of a world in which food and the injustice of society are inextricably linked.

The Belly of Paris is another splendid work by Zola. His prose perfectly captures the sights, scents and sounds of bustling Les Halles. Meanwhile his focus on food beautifully illustrates the divide between the poor and the wealthy, which is one of the main themes of the novel. The characters are memorable and well rounded, and there was enough action in the central plot to make me keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. One thing I love about Zola's writing in general is that his prose is descriptive, but it never feels plodding, making it light, easy reading compared to works from some of his contemporaries. My plan was to read this twenty-novel series in order; however, I received this one (number three) for Xmas, so I ended up starting here. I do intend to go back to one and two eventually and then continue on from there.

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