I am three chapters into The Ladies’ Paradise, by Émile Zola, and so far I love it. Set in late-1800s Paris, it is about a clothing shop called the “Ladies’ Paradise”, which threatens to destroy all the other shops in the neighborhood with its business innovations, cheap prices, and unheard-of variety. The shop is currently the brainchild of a man named Octave Mouret.
Usually, I prefer to talk about my favorite characters, but Mouret is so bad that he outshines all the other characters (most of whom are rather horrible as well). This guy is an evil genius. So brilliant, he can convert a nondescript corner of the neighborhood into a bright, clean, vibrant, mini shopping mall, creating jobs for hundreds of jobless people, including veterans. So low, he would pretend to be a friend (and boyfriend) to women, simply to make business connections and improve his profits. He is utterly shallow, and he encourages everyone around him to be the same. Part of his power is rooted in his charisma, which can ensnare both women and men. He loves no one but himself.
They all belonged to him, they were his property, and he belonged to none of them. When he had extracted his fortune and his pleasure from them, he would throw them on the rubbish heap for those who could still make a living out of them.
As an aside, I find a lot of parallels between this book and modern-day life (particularly the discontent and greed). I don’t know what to think of the small, old-fashioned shops vs. the new superstores, but it’s an interesting topic that still comes up today.