Imagine stepping through the brilliant, polished French doors of a 19th-century department store. The scent of perfume wafts through your nose as you step onto the shining wood floors, the voices of shoppers and drapers and haberdashery workers rising all around in a cacophony of sound. Brilliantly-lit chandeliers cast glints of light off of silken fabrics and imported jewels. Around you, employees rush this way and that with handfuls of lace or tailored corsets. It is altogether intoxicating and overwhelming.
This is the Ladies’ Paradise.
Alex-Is-Really-Lame-Part-Two: I really liked this one. The main character, Denise, has become a literary idol for me – she’s very headstrong and unyielding. Throughout the pages of Ladies’ Paradise, she learns how to be confident in herself as her abilities grow.
I fell in love with her.
“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” – Emile Zola, Ladies’ Paradise.
My love for this MC aside, the 480-page book is mainly about the plight of industry vs. tradition. For a modern equivalent, it’s about how Wal-Mart destroyed the common man. Mom-and-Pop businesses are being driven out by the department-store devil. As one notable Goodreads user put it, it’s “Macy’s on steroids during ‘Discount Day'”, which is a fantastic description.
Denise, a naive shopgirl from the countryside, comes to work at the Ladies’ Paradise in order to support herself and her little brother. The book makes it known from the get-go that the shopgirls are treated horribly: 13-hour-days, bare minimum for lodgings, low wages, et cetera. The owner, Mouret, is a suave lady-killer type who sort of has no choice in these sub-par lodgings – it’s the only way his business can survive.
It’s one of those books where nobody is really the bad guy. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in business. Unfortunately, this is just how things work.
My only complaint about this one is about the love of my life: Denise. While she’s clearly ambitious, she seems to rise through the store’s ranks with little to no actual struggle – everything sort of falls into her lap. I won’t state the exact reasons for her advancement for spoiler reasons, but I wish she’d had more challenges.
The book has a sweet ending with an unexpected twist, but the best part for me was Denise’s final, lingering question: what is the price of a lady’s ambition?
WORD COUNT: 417