Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Paradise by Emile Zola

This is my first book for the Back to the Classics challenge, and I was disappointed in it.  I decided to read it after watching the series on BBC, which I liked (except for the ending).  I knew from a review on Amazon that the stories wouldn't be the same, so I was interested to see what changes were made to it for the TV series.  The stories were so different as to be almost unrecognizable.  But my biggest disappointment in the book was the lack of character development.  I never felt like I got to know any of the characters.

The story is set in Paris in the late 1800's and is about the department store called The Ladies' Paradise, which had many similarities to the big box stores of today:  through sheer size and predatory practices, it is able to ruin the small independent stores.  Pages and pages and PAGES are devoted to descriptions of the store and the merchandise.  The arrangement of the store is much like modern grocery stores, which require customers who want to pick up just a few items to travel through most of the store in hopes they will purchase impulse items.

It shows the rise of consumerism in the late nineteenth century.  But the level of disdain the author shows towards women made it very hard for me to read.  Not only are the women not respected, but the men take advantage of them and no one is likable.  The story mainly follows Denise, a young woman who goes to work at The Ladies' Paradise.  At the start, she is hated by all of the other employees.  By the end of the book, everyone loves her, including the owner of the store, but we're never really shown what brought about the changes.  I rate this book 2 out of 5.


Karen K. said...

Yeah, this was not my favorite Zola. I don't think Zola's character development is always the strongest -- I think he sometimes gets carried away trying to make a point about society. And his characters are usually awful people, but the stories are usually so fascinating that I can't stop reading them. I hope you don't give up on Zola, some of his work is just wonderful.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

I have never read Emile Zola, and he doesn't sound like an author I would enjoy. I don't like books where no one in the story is really likable. If I hate the characters, then I don't care what happens to them and I stop reading! I admire your persistence, though, and you did expand your horizons by reading this. I hope your next classic is much more appealing!