I’m going to do something different with this blog post. Normally, when I finish a book, I write a ‘Thoughts On’ article, but for whatever reason, whether it is the bank holiday weekend here in England, or whether I’m just keen to move on to new things, the words are just not coming out, whilst trying to write ‘Thoughts On The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola’.
Therefore, I am going to summarise my thoughts as succinctly as possible, within an article including market photographs I have taken from the Covered Market in Oxford, and the market in St. Tropez, France.
What I want to get across most clearly, is that I really enjoyed reading The Belly of Paris. I was slightly apprehensive about reading this book, as I had been led to believe that this was the most descriptive of Zola’s novels, but suffice to say, the descriptive passages do not bog down the story at all, and in fact are part of the identity of the novel.
The novel is set in the Les Halles markets of Paris in the late 1850’s, following a political prisoner Florent, who after several years has escaped from ‘Devil’s Island’ and found his way back to Paris.
In Paris, he stays with his half-brother Quenu, who has married Lisa Macquart, one of the offspring of Antoine Macquart, from the first Les Rougon-Macquart novel, The Fortune of the Rougons, along with the Quenu’s child Pauline, and a couple of other people who work in their shop.
Quenu and Lisa own a charcuterie (pork shop) in the heart of Les Halles, and whilst in this environment, the smells, the sights, the people, the animals, and just about any other possible aspect you can think of of this market, is described in precise and poetic detail. The Quenus take good care of Florent, but Lisa begins to tire of his secret life, and his idleness, to the point where she seeks out work for him.
Florent befriends many people within Les Halles, particularly the painter Claude Lantier, Lisa’s nephew, and a character who will have his own novel in the future called The Masterpiece. Some of those he befriends though, are using Florent for their own agenda, and he begins to descend into their revolutionary plans for Paris.
At the same time, the many gossips around Les Halles are nervous about Florent, and suspect he is up to no good, though are continually frustrated to know very little of this mysterious figure.
It all lends itself to a cracking novel, one that keeps you engaged, and immersed within the world of Les Halles. There was a slight dip during one chapter, where the back story of 2 minor characters Marjolin and Cadine was explained, which although interesting, was a little too extensive, but that is almost nit-picking, it doesn’t take away from the general enjoyment of the novel.
Surprisingly, there is some great wisdom through the novel as well, particularly from Claude Lantier, who at one point explains to Florent about his theory of people either being Fat or Thin people, and not based on their appearance. Life will always contain Thin people, who get eaten (metaphorically) by Fat people, who themselves get eaten by Fatter people. I’m sure it would be debunked by a behavioural or personality psychologist, but how his theory relates to characters in the novel is very interesting.
So all in all, another great novel of Émile Zolas, in his 20-strong Les Rougon-Macquart series of novels. I’m moving onto next Le Joire de Vivre (the English translation is called The Bright Side of Life), which follows the story of the Quenu’s child Pauline. Le Joire de Vivre was a favourite novel of Vincent Van Gogh.