A Community for Curious Minds who love History, its Odd Stories, and Good Reads
Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris
Reviewed by Meridth Gimbel
After reading Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris,I feel like I have visited the mid 19th Century Les Halles marketplace in France. Zola’s novel is based on the life of Florent, an escaped political prisoner and how he influences his half brother’s family. Zola’s lively descriptions totally sucked me in. I know exactly what every street corner looks and smells like. I have a good idea what the people of this community ate, what they wore, and what life was like in the marketplace under the rule of Napoleon III. I have recently been put on a despicable diet due to medical reasons and I have to say that his lively descriptions of the marketplace, the vegetables being sold, the meats being cured was so vivid that I often had to put down the book and regroup. There’s a scene in a cheese shop that describes the sensory experience of cheese with orchestral metaphors that is delightfully overwhelming.
Food certainly is a crucial part of this book. The first English translation of this book was written in the late 1800s titled Fat and Thin. This definitely supports this books theme of the Haves and the Have-nots. Those that are interested a comfortable life and living in the present versus those that have devoted their lives to a higher cause and are working towards a greater future.
This certainly was an enjoyable read, and I have to say I was taken aback at how modern the story was. Despite Zola’s very tangible descriptions at times I felt like I was reading something more contemporary. My only complaint could be that all of the details squeezed into the narrative sometimes slows down the plot. But being that I delight in historical details and anything to do with food, I didn’t mind.