The Ladies' Paradise is a compelling story of ambition and love set against the backdrop of the spectacular rise of the department store in 1860s Paris. Octave Mouret is a business genius who transforms a modest draper's shop into a hugely successful retail enterprise, masterfully exploiting the desires of his female customers and ruining small competitors along the way. Through the eyes of trainee salesgirl Denise we see the inner workings of the store and the relations and intrigues among the staff, human dramas played out alongside the relentless pursuit of commercial supremacy.
I was first introduced to the story of the Ladies’ Paradise through the BBC adaptation that was set in London and renamed a more concise ‘The Paradise’. I loved the programme, and so was desperate to read the book, seem as they are always better than anything on screen, and I am pleased to say it did not let me down.The writing throughout this book is fluent, descriptive and creates well developed and realistic characters with such ease that I found myself mourning the loss of the prominent narrative when I moved on to another read. The book is translated from the original, which was written in French, and so I have to say that the translator did an amazing job at not losing the story through the language change.
The book was certainly not too plot heavy, but for me, the story carried along at a nice pace. I would say, however, that if you do not like period dramas and stories that are not too action packed then you might want to give this one a miss.
And finally, to the characters. Denise’s situation was a lot harsher in the novel than it was transferred to screen, so at first I was a little shocked when she brought along with her her two brothers and her uncle turned her away. However, this only made me admire her more; I grew along with her as the story progressed, and enjoyed every second of her story. Mouret was something/somebody else that was a lot harsher on page than on screen, so I was a little surprised at how cruel he was during the first few chapters of the novel, but again, as he softened, I warmed up to him and began to enjoy him as a character again.
Overall, I absolutely adored this book and without a doubt give it 5 stars. A must read for anyone who likes period dramas and also what I view as a great introduction to classic novels.