Part of Emile Zola’s multigenerational Rougon-Macquart saga, The Belly of Paris is the story of Florent Quenu, a wrongly accused man who escapes imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Returning to his native Paris, Florent finds a city he barely recognizes, with its working classes displaced to make way for broad boulevards and bourgeois flats. Living with his brother’s family in the newly rebuilt Les Halles market, Florent is soon caught up in a dangerous maelstrom of food and politics. Amid intrigue among the market’s sellers–the fishmonger, the charcutière, the fruit girl, and the cheese vendor–and the glorious culinary bounty of their labors, we see the dramatic difference between “fat and thin” (the rich and the poor) and how the widening gulf between them strains a city to the breaking point.
Translated and with an Introduction by the celebrated historian and food writer Mark Kurlansky, The Belly of Paris offers fascinating perspectives on the French capital during the Second Empire–and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of its sumptuous repasts.
An underrated work
By Karl Janssen - May 3, 2005
This novel, the third in the Rougon-Macquart series, is a great example of what Zola does best. Through his minute attention to descriptive detail, he creates a setting based on historical fact, peoples it with an ensemble cast of realistic characters, and before we know it we are entangled in their lives as if we were one of the neighborhood. In this case the neighborhood is Les Halles, the huge marketplace of Paris, and the cast is composed of fish mongers, butchers, bakers, vegetable sellers, and street urchins. The two main characters are Lisa Quenu (born Lisa Macquart, daughter of Antoine Macquart), and her brother-in-law Florent. Florent, a Republican who's had some trouble with the law, seems to be an embodiment of Zola's feelings toward the revolutionary movement of the time, both positive and negative. Lisa, who runs a butcher shop with her husband, represents the moderate French citizen of the era, far more interested in the comforts and challenges of everyday life than in... read more
A Novel for Food Lovers
By A Customer - May 4, 1997
From the moment the hero appears -- about to be run down by a row of peasant carts bringing produce to market -- to his denunciation and arrest caused by the swirling jealousies and mutual hatreds of the wholesale food merchants of Paris, this book is a nonstop ode to food. Virtually every page is a food fight of the senses, with pages of sensuous descriptions of every manner of food known to France. Set in Napoleon III's Paris, shortly after the giant Les Halles market was built on the Right Bank (it is now a giant sunken shopping mall near the Pompidou Center), THE BELLY OF PARIS is the story of an escapee from the French penal colony in Cayenne who lives with his brother, a pork butcher, and becomes a seafood inspector. In the process, he becomes a target for the discontents of the gossipy food merchants who are resentful of his left-leaning ways. He and his friends foment a pathetic attempt at a revolution that mirrors what was to become the Paris Commune years later... read more
Like the curate's egg: good in parts
By A Customer - September 3, 1999
Zola is a great author and any of his stuff is worth reading. This book breaks new ground in its portrayal of the lives of the "little people" of Paris, its detailed descriptions of food and, most of all, its use of a city district - rather than human beings - as its main character. Zola himself had great affection for it. You feel his nostalgia for his difficult early days in the capital. But ultimately the book doesn't quite gell. The famous descriptions, while being jewels in themselves, actually get in the way of the action. The plot could have been more sharply focused and, perhaps the most curious thing of all, the main human character, Florent, is only a member by marriage of the Rougon-Macquart family which the cycle of novels is about. The "real" member of the family, Lisa, has a remarkably peripheral role. Also, the book could have been made a lot shorter. But it is still rewarding for the reader because, after dealing with provincial intrigue... read more
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