Book Report: Bel Ami

I had forgotten, until I started to read Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami, how much I enjoy French writers of the late 1800s. They were brutal and beautiful, and capable of so much more accurate introspection than British writers of the same time. At least that’s how it seems to me. I mean, Madame Bovary. And Zola! La Bête Humaine! Could an American or Brit have gotten away with that kind of barely repressed lust? Prove me wrong– I wouldn’t mind, because then I could read it. I just haven’t come across it yet. Bel Ami comes about thirty years after Madame Bovary and the characters are different, the subjects are different–I’m not going to be contrasting and comparing the two of them any time soon, except to marvel at French writers as a group. I suppose if I wanted to connect the three novels, I could say something about our need to control our lives being connected to our sexuality, but I’m not in the mood to write a research paper. I’m in the mood to prattle on rather aimlessly about Bel Ami.

Georges Duroy is a social climber. His life has not taken the upturn as he’d expected it to, and when we meet him he is on the prowl. At first, he is not altogether unsympathetic. After all, he was a soldier, and who cannot identify with a young man who feels dissatisfied, especially after having served his country? And he’s plucky and handsome enough to get a prostitute to go home with him for free. Call me crazy, but that’s at least a tiny bit admirable. It implies he has a certain amount of charm– and he does, but soon he’ll use it to deleterious effect. But early on, we see how he has treated Algerian villagers brutally during his service, and my liberal heart started to harden towards him right then. From that moment on, he was a protagonist I loved to hate. Some of the best protagonists are their own antagonists, after all. Look at The Talented Mr. Ripley for that.

Throughout the novel, I kept waiting, hoping that he would receive his comeuppance– and I’m not sure he really did.  He met his match, perhaps, but I don’t think he received any comeuppances– unless he received an STD from all that fooling around he did. Now there would be a modernized take on it. Ha! All the women he slept with (and their assorted husbands) could untangle who gave what to whom. In the modern era, he may have had a much darker end. In the novel, however, we don’t see an end to him at all. That’s as much of a spoiler as you are going to get!

I’m not sure what to read next. There’s an embarrassment of riches on my nightstand and on my Kindle. I’m leaning towards something entirely different, so it might be China Miéville’s Kraken. I’m currently reading Jo Nesboø’s first Harry Hole novel, The Bat— but I’ve written a lot about Hole so we’ll see.

Release the Kraken! I had to say it.
Release the Kraken! I had to say it.

As for cooking, last weekend I baked 48 cupcakes for my daughter’s ninth birthday party, so I’m all baked out. I’ve spent the past week cleaning up after the little Shivas (after having spent the week before that cleaning the house to get ready for the party). I’m choosing to look at it this way: Sometimes chaos needs to rear its ugly head so that order can emerge. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I sort through the rubble of her bedroom.


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