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Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bel-Ami by Guy MaupassantPublished in 1885 and translated into English in 1903, Bel Ami is one of those books that would have been sneered at as a “novel” (said with utmost disdain) when first released. It’s Maupassant’s second and one of his more popular works, especially after having been made into a less impressive movie (“The Private Affairs of Bel Ami”, 1947) with the witty, caustic George Sanders. (Don’t even bother with the 2012 movie.) This is one of those books that is so significantly better than the movie, there’s simply no comparison. They’re practically two totally different works.

A lot of times books from the early 20th century and before get a bad rap for being dry, too long, and told in excruciating detail. This is the rare one that is nothing like that. Sure, here and there Maupassant puts in details that would have been relevant at the time—historical details relevant to his newspaper job—but those are in the minority. Overall, this is a fast-paced and pretty shocking book for the period. It includes more details than would normally be given at that time about the main character’s relationships with women, and it’s very straight forward about them. Rare for 1885!

My favorite thing is the way Maupassant shows over the course of the book how the main character, George Duroy, changes drastically over time in a believable way. It’s the classic story of how more is never enough, and Duroy’s journey from pauper to powerful and rich is brilliantly told, never skipping over the risks he takes or how his mind changes from relatively naive to very cunning, from wishful to entitled.

I highly recommend this book!

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