This novel was mentioned in a biography I am reading, and which will be reviewed in the near future. I found it interesting, because it's an historical novel that was written at the time, so to speak, and therefore had a lot of authenticity even though it's fiction.
The only problem is that it was written in French and I had a modern English translation, so it lost something in that, and there was some confusion about what to translate. Naturally, the names of people and places remain in French, but while on the one hand they maintained the French currency: sous, centimes, and francs, they translated measurements into imperial. I didn't get that! Did the translator think American audiences are so dumb they can't figure out what a metre is?
The story started out interestingly enough, with 20-year-old Denise Baudu arriving in Paris from the country, and finding herself with impoverished relatives. She is quickly forced to find work, and ends up as a sales assistant at a huge department store named Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Paradise). Here she is subject to such persistent cruelty from the existing assistants who seem to universally torture her, and deride her that the reading became tedious. It felt like reading a modern YA novel!
My ebook reader told me there were over a thousand screens, and I had made it barely to the halfway point when she got rather unjustly fired from her job. Maybe the story picked up after that, but by that point I was so uninterested in pursuing it that I had not the heart to keep reading. I really didn't care what became of Denise.
On the one hand she was cruelly abused, but on the other she was a profoundly stupid woman who let her profligate brother walk all over her, and she simply isn't the kind of character I'm interested in reading about. Seeing no sign of any real change in circumstances by the half-way point, I quit and decided to try something else that might entertain me better. Life is too short to put up with dissatisfying literature!
So I'm done with Émile Zola, and I cannot commend this novel based on what I read of it.