What happens if you decide to write a novel that features seduction, intrigue, and ruthless social climbing? You end up with Bel Ami, which is a novel written by Guy de Maupassant. It has been a while since I have read classical fiction, so I figured I pick this one up for a change.
And what is it about? Well, the novel revolves around the activities and adventures of George Duroy, who is an aspiring journalist returning from French-occupied Algeria. He decides to try his luck in Paris, and for some reason, his luck is stellar. He meets one man, who gives him a job as a small-time travel writer for a newspaper, but that blossoms into him slowly going up the social ladder in Paris, to the point when he is a powerful political journalist in one of Paris' leading newspapers.
Of course, he does this through mooching, by taking advantage of other people along the way. He charms several women into helping him, either financially, politically or sexually. And with every step, he navigates the Parisian social ladder. And as usual, there are victims along the way.
I suppose that's the general idea of the book. After reading several novels that are more modern in design and structure, I found reading Bel Ami rather easy. The time frame was chronological, it was written from an omniscient point of view, and the narrative was simple. For that, at first, I thought that I didn't like the book. I found it too simple, given that I have been reading Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk recently. But somehow, I guess it would be unfair to evaluate this book by comparing it to works belonging to a totally different form and generation.
That mental bump aside, I came to appreciate the book more for what it was trying to do, or what I think it was trying to do. In essence, it is a critique of Parisian society. Note that there isn't a single likeable character in the book. George is a very opportunistic bachelor, and the women that he caresses and loves are also selfish and sexually-charged human beings as well. Everyone is just geared into climbing the social ladder, having been trained to do so from the very beginning, as evidenced by Susan's character, a young girl who has an encounter with George sometime along the narrative.