I was led to my read of The Ladies’ Paradise by my enjoyment of the BBC TV series. The tv film was vey good, although I did take a while to like it and the novel on which is is based, translated by Brian Nelson, is a very good read.
Sensibly, the screenplay took only the book’s concept and its main characters –indeed it used so very little of Zola’s original content that reading the novel was not at all like watching the tv series. It was, as usual, even better. Charting the lives of Parisians at a commercial key point in history - the rise of the department store – the story burrows deep into the morality of the big overtaking the small and more powerfully, the exploitation of women. In particular, women for whom the retail therapy (although that phrase was not in the lexicon at that time!) becomes obsessive and men (and some women) seize the chance this offers to make money. The title says it all really!
Zola is not only a novelist, he is a social commentator, weaving a narrative of what must surely have been fact, and hard fact, for many small business owners into a fictional account of one woman holding firm when many were being led astray. The language takes a little getting used to, but then I find that when reading Dickens, but this book flows well, and it’s great on the external and internal architecture of buildings that house and foster what we all now take for granted. Such things as turnover, sales, returns, and temptations placed at our entry to temples built so that our money becomes goods, and thus more money for others.
Zola, does, of course, have a extensive oeuvre so my list of books to be read in the future has now grown longer. Perhaps Therese Raquin next.year.