This is the 10th book in the Rougon-Macquart series, and occurs in a Parisian apartment building. The main character, Octave*, a young man, moves to this building where, according with its concierge, only respectable families live. The truth is, behind closed-doors, every single one of these families have a lot of dirty secrets. Octave himself is only seeking to seduce any upper-class or bourgeois lady he could find. He tries to seduce his landlord’s daughter-in-law and fails; then he goes after his boss’ wife, Mme. Hédouin, and fails again, so he quits his job at “The Ladies’ Paradise”. He has to settle with Mme. Pichon, his floor neighbor, for a while, until he finally manages to get Berthe, his landlord’s newest daughter-in-law and the wife of his new boss. In the meantime, one gets to know the rest of the families and their comings and goings between unhappy marriages, arranged weddings, reunions and “hidden” mistresses. No one in this building has a clean record, except, perhaps, that mysterious happy family that the concierge despises so much basically because they always minded their own business and payed no-attention to the other “so morally respectable tenants”.
A special word deserve the maids and cooks, who made fun of their patrons in the kitchens, take advantage of them and, in occasions, satisfy their sexual appetites. In this last matter, one of my favorite characters was Trublot, a young man who was always after the maids, despising the bourgeois ladies, and trying to convince Octave into his taste in women.
For being a naturalistic novel, it had quite an ok ending. Not bitter-sweet as usual, but, if you consider Octave’s fate, quite promising. It has an immediate sequel in The Ladies’ Paradise, the 11th book in the series. BUT, we’re going to have a break from Zola, so who knows when that will come.
*The only “sane” son of Francois and Marthe Mouret. It astonished me, however, how at certain point he’s asked about his parents, and he answers that they’re fine. Was he lying? He didn’t know yet? Did the story happen before the other’s book debacle?