“Bel-Ami” by Guy de Maupassant

After serving in the military in Algeria, George Duroy decides to move to Paris to start his new career, but after an uninspiring start, a chance meeting with an old friend, Forestier, leads to a new job as a journalist on La Vie Francaise. With help from his friends wife, his first article is a success, and he soon finds himself caught up in politics and a society full of corruption and deceit, but his swift ascendence up the social hierarchy is only achieved by learning the art of manipulation and seduction.

This was the best book I’ve read so far this year. Absolutely engrossing from the start, I thought this tale of society and morals was wickedly funny and fantastically observed. While the characterisation of George Duroy is exquisite, a man I felt I knew inside and out by the end of the book, the women he is involved with are all wonderful inventions who feel very real and well drawn, with their different foibles and personalities making them in turns sympathetic, ridiculous and manipulative, almost as much as George himself.

The most astounding thing for me, however, was the conclusion. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it, but I had expectation of how the themes of redemption and morality would be applied for each of the characters, but there were certainly some surprises as to how each story was resolved. Definitely not a run of the mill tale, and all the better for it.

Beautifully written, elegant plotting, and an engrossing, satisfying read. If this doesn’t make my top five reads of the year, then I’ll be very surprised.

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