This is my review of Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant.
An ex-soldier of humble origin, Georges Duroy finds work in Paris where he is irked by his poverty until he discovers that his success with women brings financial and social advancement. Employed as a journalist, his greed and corruption increase as he rises in a world where the powerful and influential come to admire his risk-taking guile. His nickname "Bel-Ami", coined by the precocious daughter of his mistress, becomes widely adopted, although the child has in the meantime lost trust in him, disappointed by his fickle insincerity.
This is a cynical study of C19 Parisian society. It is entertaining, full of wry humour, quite pacy in its plot and surprisingly modern in its frank exploration of psychology. There are many gripping studies: Duroy facing death on the eve of a duel, an aspect I have not seen covered before; Duroy and his equally scheming wife looking into each other's eyes in a moment of truth about their relationship, yet each unable to know what another human being is thinking; an old journalist revealing to Duroy the horror of death which haunted Maupassant himself. I also admire his vivid descriptions of, say, the countryside, the changing sky, the sinister unfamiliarity of a rural forest to a citydweller, the vitality of Les Folies Bergers.
Maupassant's characters are flawed but "real" in their complex, shifting motives and emotions. He writes with a searing simplicity, free of any artifice or pretension, and a fluidity that makes it seem effortless.