This is my third year as a participant in the Paris in July Reading Event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea. I find this a very interesting and creative event of the sort that helps build the book blog community. You will find lots of reading ideas on the host blogs. I am greatly enjoying participating in this event. It has motivated me to revisit the work of some of the true giants of European literature, Marcel Proust, Guy de Maupassant, Colette, Alfred Jarry, Andre Gide, Honore Balzac ,Zola and Dumas. We visited also had visits from Edgar Allan Poe, Katherine Mansfield, The Marquis de Sade and Irene Nemirovsky.
The Ladies Paradise is an account of life in a giant department store in Paris in the late 19th century. It is not on the level of Nana and Germinal but I greatly enjoyed reading it.
The best part of the novel, and it was quite brilliant, was Zola's account of how the department store functioned. We see how the employees are treated as it grows from a few dozen employees to several thousand. We see how their viciously competitive policies drive many small businesses under. Zola researched his novels very carefully and there is a lot to be learned about retail in Paris from this novel.
The weakness in this novel is in the human characters. The central figure is a heart of gold country girl, Denise, who starts out with the lowest status of jobs in the store. We see the nasty way other employees treat her. Many of the employees live in the store dormitory and all take meals there. Everything is strictly regulated. There are inspectors whose job is to watch over employees to prevent theft and make sure no rules are violated. The store is a hot bed of gossip. Sales days bring mob scenes and the chaos is exciting. We learn about life among the ordinary employees, they can and are dismissed without notice at the whim of a superior and we learn about the store owner who has a history as a sexual predator among the female employees. He develops an infatuation for Denise. Most who have posted on this novel have said the romance is the weakest part of the book and I agree.
I would suggest one read Zola's more famous books first. Then I can see The Ladies Paradise as a good Zola novel. The BBC recently produced a drama based on it I hope to see someday.
I hope to post on a short story by Anatole France tomorrow.