Bel-Ami - Douglas Parmée, Guy de Maupassant For a novel published in 1885 and set in the Paris of that period, this novel has a remarkably modern feel. It's about sleazy journalism, corrupt politicians, sex, money and power. And through it all is the Bel-Ami of the title - Georges Duroy, who uses his liaisons with rich and / or powerful women to achieve the wealth and social position he craves. Bel-Ami is the nickname given to him by the daughter of a mistress. It means "handsome (or beautiful) friend", but the nickname, like almost everything else about Georges, is deceptive. As handsome as he is, there's nothing in the least bit friendly about Georges.

I love so much about this book. I love the straightforward, accessible language, the believable dialogue and the descriptions of Paris life in 1885. I love the use of humour, such as in the duelling scene. I love the poignancy of some of the scenes: for example the death of a secondary character, Forrestier, which is masterfully written.

However, the character of Georges Duroy is the novel's greatest achievement. He is the centre around whom everyting turns and he is a fascinating creation. De Maupassant initially evokes sympathy for Georges. He is poor, and while ambitious, he suffers humiliation because of his poverty. But any sympathy is stripped away as the narrative progresses. Georges is a person who can never be content with what he has. Each gain, each achievement only leads to more envy and increased greed. In another novel, a character like this would ultimately get his comeuppance. But not here. George goes from success to success, taking every opportunity presented to him with cynical disregard for anyone other than himself. As a character, Georges is both horrifying and compelling.

This novel is a wonderful illustration of how a total lack of virtue can bring great rewards. There is no doubt that this remains as true today as it was in Paris in 1885.