Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

I picked up this book because I saw a preview for the movie that was just released staring Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, a.k.a. Bel-Ami (means beautiful friend). The story takes place in the 1880's in Paris. When we first meet Georges Duroy, he is a nobody. He has a thankless job, which pays him so little that he is barely able to live. He has no prospects, and no hope of making more of himself. I initially had great sympathy for Georges - he was ambitious, but unable to rise above his poverty.

That all changes when he happens to cross an old military buddy of his, who manages to secure him a job at the newspaper where he works. Through this friend and his new job, Duroy comes into contact with high society women, and soon discovers that he has a way with them. He uses his good looks, charm, and powers of seduction to achieve wealth and social position, at the expense of these women.

There is nothing "beautiful" about the character of Georges Duroy. He is extremely shallow and spends most of his time consumed with thoughts about what others think of him. He is never happy and seems to think that the grass is always greener. Every success leads to the desire for more. He is a cruel womanizer. He takes advantage of his many mistresses, taking from them what he wants - their bodies, their time, their money - and then discarding them with little regard for their feelings. One of his mistresses he conquers just for sport, just to see if he can seduce her, and then throws her away at the earliest convenience. To cap it all off, he even goes so far as to marry her daughter.

The women of this story are infuriating. They continually allow themselves to be taken in by Duroy and tossed aside, and yet they keep coming back to him, again and again. One mistress even gets beaten by Duroy and still comes back! What drove me crazy is that Duroy clearly has no real regard for these women and feels no remorse over using and abusing them. Over and over again, these women realize that he does not truly care for them. They get angry and rage at him, some even refuse to ever speak to him again. Yet one word from Duroy, one glance their way, and they are hooked again and allow themselves to be used as pawns in Duroy's game, only to be disappointed again.

The book has all the great things one would expect from a novel about Paris in the 1880s - sleazy journalism, corrupt politicians, sex, money, and power. While I can appreciate all of that, my inner feminist was screaming at these women to "smell the coffee" and realize that Duroy was a no good, two-timing douche-bag. What's sad is that karma does not come to bite him in the ass. Duroy becomes a stunning success, despite his treatment of those around him.

As far as classics go, this was a very easy read. The writing style is easy to follow, and there is not a lot of difficult language to trip over. In fact, the book has a very modern feel to it. I gave it two stars - I liked the book and don't regret picking it up, but it is not a classic that I will probably ever read again. I recommend that you at least give it a try...

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