99. Bel Ami, Guy de Maupassant (1885)

I’m hoist by my own petard on this one, because although Maupassant is in my top five favourite writers it’s not for his novels, but for his short stories, that I love him. So Bel Ami, my favourite of his longer works, ranks lower than it should. Bel Ami is a good pendant to Zola’s Nana (coming soon), recounting the rise and fall of another parasitic whore, this time a man, the sexy and amoral ex-soldier Georges Duroy. It’s the epitome of the ‘dirty French novel’ as Duroy climbs his way, woman by woman, to the very top of Parisian society, with few regrets and no morals. He’s vicious and heartless but despite it all you’re cheering him right to the end  – which is a hard trick to pull off. Mind you I still think Maupassant achieves more in the half-dozen pages of a story like ‘Le Signe’ than he does in a full-length novel. (Slovakian pornographer George Duroy took his pseudonym, and his studio name, from Bel Ami.)

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