The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola

The Belly of ParisThis is probably the best Zola I’ve read since Germinal. The translation, by Mark Kurlansky, was fabulous. Each of the six chapters opens up a new section of life in the Paris food market. Food becomes a metaphor for everything going on around it: life, death, revolt, sex, gossip, politics. Les Halles, the market, overflows with color and smell, until it becomes a putrid melée infecting everything around and inside it. Florent, the main character, cannot survive in this mess, and is buffeted from one section to another by the whims of others around him. His situation reminded me simultaneously of the “administrative detentions” in Palestine and of Mersault’s conviction (more because of his, Mersault’s, lack of tears at his mother’s funeral than his actual crime) in Camus’ The Stranger. Interestingly, I didn’t get that feeling of doom that I normally get while reading a Zola book, probably because there was more of a buffer between reader and characters. We watch the battle between what is termed “The Fat” and “The Thin,” the well-fed upper classes and the lowly, underfed poor, but we watch from afar. We see all this battle from the middle ground, the middle class, where the conflict is even more interesting – the middle class are far more concerned with their own political ideas than any actual reality of “rich” or “poor.” It reminded me of battle plans drawn on paper, compared to the actual reality of war. It was fascinating to remain detached that way, in the midst of absolute chaos. I am ever more impressed by Zola.


About Amanda

Writing. Family. Books. Crochet. Fitness. Fashion. Fun. Not necessarily in that order. Note: agender (she/her).
This entry was posted in 2011, Adult, Prose and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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