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The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola

The Belly of Paris (1873)

by Émile Zola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Les Rougon-Macquart (3)

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8442215,665 (3.89)1 / 131

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English (19)  German (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Too long. Too much description of the market and products. ( )
  tgamble54 | Aug 21, 2018 |
Not suitable for vegetarians; may contain large quantities of animal fats, sugar, carbohydrates, nuts, gluten, rampant capitalism, etc.

In this third volume of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, readers couldn't avoid noticing what an extraordinary kind of writer Zola was (in case they hadn't spotted it already...). The novel is composed exactly like one of those Flemish kitchen-scene paintings where 80% of the canvas is covered with vividly-rendered fruit & veg, poultry, fish, and meat, usually with a muscular kitchen-maid doing something nasty to a duck, and a lot of gleaming copper pans. And when you look really closely, somewhere in the background through a doorway you will spot a narrative going on - usually Christ in the house of Mary and Martha, or the Road to Emmaus.

Zola takes us on a gloriously overpowering virtual-reality tour of the sights, smells, textures and sounds of Paris's central food market, Les Halles, as rebuilt in magnificent Second Empire cast-iron and glass by Victor Baltard in the 1850s and 60s. Everywhere we look there is sensory overload as we are manoeuvred around piles of cabbages and turnips, mountains of fresh fish, vast displays of charcuterie, a competition of smelly cheeses, piles of animal carcasses, cellars full of pigeons and ducks, drains running with offal, and hundreds of traders, butchers, porters and market officials rushing around in a desperate hurry. All the drama and excitement of how you manage to feed a city of over a million people in this strange modern world. It's often said that Zola - like Thomas Hardy - was only a novelist because the cinema wasn't invented in time for him, but when you read this, it's pretty clear that Zola would have found the cinema's limitation to reproducing sound and vision only far too restrictive. He needs to be able to address all our senses from all directions at once to get his effect.

Somewhere in between all this high-pressure trading in perishable wares, there is a story going on, a typical Zola story of a hapless well-intentioned individual crushed under Napoleon III's regime, but it's tucked away so far in the background that we're made to realise just how little an individual human's fate counts for in the middle of the capitalist euphoria of booming Paris. Everything is about production, consumption, and excess, and Zola doesn't hesitate to milk it. In what's probably the most memorable scene in a novel that consists almost entirely of memorable scenes, the unfortunate Florent is telling what should be the exciting tale of how he escaped from the inhuman conditions of Devil's Island, but Florent's brother, now a charcutier, is busy making boudin, and Zola keeps distracting us and the other listeners from Florent's attempts to survive in the Guyanan jungle with the complex and difficult process of preparing blood-sausage. In the end, only his five-year-old niece, fascinated by "l’histoire du monsieur qui a été mangé par les bêtes", is actually listening to Florent. ( )
  thorold | May 28, 2018 |
This book had too much description for me. A lot if it read like the recitation of an inventory of a food market. I was a third of the way in and there still wasn't a plot, so I gave up. ( )
  fhudnell | Aug 29, 2017 |
This third in the Rougon-Macquart novels focuses on the people of Las Halles, a huge market in Paris for vegetables, fish, flowers, fowl, and just about anything else. Florent, a former revolutionary, has escaped from Devil's Island. He returns to Paris to live with his brother and sister-in-law above their butcher shop, posing as his sister-in-law's cousin. He obtains a position as a fish inspector in Las Halles. His sister-in-law, however, resents him, because she knows he is owed a share of the inheritance with which they bought the butcher's shop, and because she fears the consequences to herself and her husband if it is discovered they are harboring an escaped convict.

The 'star' of the novel is Las Halles itself, and its many denizens. Zola's descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the flowers and fish, the geese and the cabbages, and all the other marvels of this huge market are unforgettable. The name-calling and rivalry among the fish-wives, the haggling with the vegetable woman, the neighborhood gossips, the children who are born and grow up in the market--all of these create a vivid and fascinating slice of life as it existed in a small section of Paris during the mid-19th century. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 21, 2017 |
How do I begin to describe the feelings this book left me…. *BURP*
I felt as though I gorged myself on 100 pounds of chocolate bacon and swallowed it down with 10 gallons of SICKLY sweet wine and afterwards swallowed an entire Tiramisu cake in one bite. It left me feeling fully satiated and yet I am still starving to discover more about the mysterious world of Old Paris.
I had to work at finishing this novel, as I felt my belly was full to the brim of descriptions of food and yet I couldn’t peel myself away anyhow. You know when you continue to eat after you are full because the meal tastes so good? This is what will occur here.
I found myself constantly pausing to scour the internet for recipes to these Parisian foods. I ended up discovering and growing fond of Blood sausage.
This story lacks any real action, this is more of a character development, with overly lush descriptions of FOOD, of course, and also a beautiful city and the people who worked at the market.
You felt starving in the beginning, to the effect that it lead you to feel dizzy.
There was a small growing plot that was kind of an undertone and not the primary focus… I felt I was too distracted by descriptions to care about a plot.
You felt a strong loathing for the FAT characters, and routed for the skinny underground folks to gain any sort of prosperity- although they seemed to despise it anyhow.
There was a beautiful story of 2 “street-children” that grew up together that really tugged at my heartstrings. They made the underground world of the poor underprivileged seem almost mystical and free from all constraints, yet you wanted to take them both under your wing and raise them proper.

I left off a star because I grew a bit frustrated and bored there in the middle, desiring some sort of strong action or plot… I will definitely not re-read this, as my belly is full to the brim and the smell of food now disgusts me… LOL
However!! I have now grown quite fond of the writer and will read more of his works-
“Nana” is next on my list.
( )
  XoVictoryXo | May 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zola, Émileprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kurlansky, MarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwencke, J.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Au milieu du grand silence, et dans le désert de l’avenue, les voitures de maraîchers montaient vers Paris, avec les cahots rythmés de leurs roues, dont les échos battaient les façades des maisons, endormies aux deux bords, derrière les lignes confuses des ormes.
Amidst the deep silence and solitude prevailing in the avenue several market gardeners' carts were climbing the slope which led towards Paris, and the fronts of the houses, asleep behind the dim lines of elms on either side of the road, echoed back the rhythmical jolting of the wheels.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192806335, Paperback)

Unjustly deported to Devil's Island following Louis-Napoleon's coup-d'état in December 1851, Florent Quenu escapes and returns to Paris. He finds the city changed beyond recognition. The old Marché des Innocents has been knocked down as part of Haussmann's grand program of urban reconstruction, replaced by Les Halles, the spectacular new food markets. Disgusted by a bourgeois society whose devotion to food is inseparable from its devotion to the Government, Florent attempts an insurrection. Les Halles, apocalyptic and destructive, play an active role in Zola's picture of a world in which food and the injustice of society are inextricably linked.
This is the first English translation in fifty years of Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris). The third in Zola's great cycle, Les Rougon-Macquart, it is as enthralling as Germinal, Thérèse Raquin, and the other novels in the series. Its focus on the great Paris food hall, Les Halles--combined with Zola's famous impressionist descriptions of food--make this a particularly memorable novel. Brian Nelson's lively translation captures the spirit of Zola's world and his Introduction illuminates the use of food in the novel to represent social class, social attitudes, political conflicts, and other aspect of the culture of the time. The bibliography and notes ensure that this is the most critically up-to-date edition of the novel in print.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Florent Quenu returns to Paris after being unjustly imprisoned and finds the city utterly changed. The great new food market, Les Halles, has been built, and food dominates the political and social life of the capital.

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Average: (3.89)
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