Book Review — The Belly of Paris

Cover of The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola

The Belly of Paris (Les Rougon-Macquart #3)
Emile Zola
originally published 1873,
reprint with introduction and translation by Mark Kurlansky, Modern Library, 2009

We all have that one book that we feel that we should have read but just never got around to. For me, that book was Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris or The Fat and the Thin, as it was originally titled. This is a disappointment, because, having finally read it, I regret not having made the effort sooner, if only so that I would have had more opportunities to read it over and over again in my lifetime. This is an issue that I fully intend to address in future, but still, had I first read this as a teenager, I’d surely have read it at least a dozen more times in the interim years, so brilliant is this work of fiction.

Set in and around Les Halles market in Paris just after the new buildings were erected in the 1850s, The Belly of Paris tells the story of Florent Quenu, wrongly arrested and sent to prison, escaped and returned to his brother, a chef who now runs a successful charcuterie shop on a street near the fish monger section of Les Halles.

The third book in a 20-part series, (The Rougon-Macquart books follow the lives of a fictional family over multiple generations), The Belly of Paris speaks to the politics of the day (plenty of uprisings and upheaval in the years after the French Revolution), and Zola offers both serious and comedic characters as he tells the story of two brothers and their disparate lives and life choices.

In a setting of so much plenty, Zola explores the disparity of the Fats (the well-to-do bourgeois) and the Thins (those always struggling, often with not enough to eat despite their environment). Malice, jealousy and petty gossip propel the story to its heartbreaking but not unexpected ending.

The selling point here is Zola’s detailed, breath-taking imagery. The descriptions of food throughout the market last for pages at a time and in other works of food fiction, this might get tedious, but Zola is so adept at his descriptions, the reader can’t help but imagine themselves there, amid the chaos and bustle, surrounded by the noise and smells of the market. One particular scene, set in a fromagerie and since referred to as “the cheese symphony” is so vivid, so enrapturing, that if the reader can’t place themselves in that shop, smelling those strong, moldering cheeses in the hot summer afternoon, then that reader should give up reading books altogether.

The Belly of Paris is the ultimate work of food fiction which all other novelists choosing to include food in their works must aspire to. I recommend buying a copy (the entire series is now public domain and can be had in ebook format for under $2), so you can read it again and again, as I intend to do. However, the 2009 printing — translated by food writer Mark Kurlansky — is worth seeking out, as Kurlansky’s notes offer a very comprehensive and detailed exploration of the political issues of the time, which might not be known to readers unfamiliar with French history and politics of the era.

Final thought — why has nobody made The Belly of Paris into a film???

Four Books on Goth

gothchic

In my exploration of Nu Goth and Dark Mori recently, one of the points I kept coming across was that the Goth kids of today just didn’t take the time to learn about the origins of their subculture. And while there is plenty of information online for anyone capable of using the Goggle box, for some reason we still look to the dead tree format as the last authoritarian word on any given subject. So I went to the good ol’ library and pulled some books on Goth to see what exactly is the definitive and printed word on the subject.

I guess the most important thing to note is that there aren’t a great number of non-fiction books about Goth, and of those that exist, many were created by small imprints and aren’t widely available. What I was able to track down is fairly dated, but as they mostly cover the history of the scene, would be a good launch pad for anyone wanting to start from the beginning.

Goth Chic by Gavin Baddeley was originally published in 2002, making it the oldest of our collection. Despite the title, the book mostly deals with the origins and influences of the scene, including art, literature, film and television, and only touches on fashion in one chapter. Baddeley splits most topics into classic and modern chapters, separating the work of Edgar Allan Poe from from that of Anne Rice, for instance. The music chapter is more of a primer, covering the origins of Goth music and the first Goth bands, but keeps things pretty basic. Even with the “primer” aspect of Goth Chic, Baddeley manages to cram a lot of information into its 288 pages, in part by using a teeny tiny font. Printed in black and white, Goth Chic looks its age, but is a wealth of basic information.

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Awesome Thing – Brooches from StoryFolk

storyfolk

Who is your favourite fictional character? Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Goldilocks? Romeo and Juliet? Maybe Anna Karenina? Wouldn’t you love to have an adorable brooch with their image on it?

Christine Su is the mastermind behind StoryFolk, and creates felt brooches of a vast array of characters from literature, from the gingerbread man to Gatsby and Daisy. Her work is super cute and very well done and it’s incredibly hard to choose just one. She’ll also bring beloved characters to life via custom orders.

Perfect for the bookworm in your life for this upcoming gift-giving season.