The Belly of Paris

The Belly of Paris

Émile Zola

It’s about bitches: filthy-mouthed fruit-sellers who scramble to keep track of their bastard children and a market full of people “gorging themselves and growing fat”.

Florent Quenu is painfully thin after escaping seven years of imprisonment in French Guiana. Paris in 1858 has abandoned the ideals of the resistance for which he fought and has swallowed Louis-Napoleon’s materialism whole-hog. Nowhere do the consequences of Haussmanns’s urban reconstruction feel more nauseating than in Les Halles, where rotting food can be sold at a premium and gossip is a prized commodity.

Zola’s apocalyptic descriptions are for realists, not romantics. He’s relentless when it comes to fat dripping in sausage shops, carcasses hanging in butchers’ vaults, and oily rivulets running throughout fish stalls. But it is the unsweetened account of human nature he serves that reeks so much of today.

As Florent and his crew plan an anti-capitalist insurgence, back-stabbing mean girls rule the volatile flow of opinion against him.

The third volume in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, The Belly of Paris (subtitled The Fat and the Thin) includes recurring characters Claude Lantier and his cousin, Lisa Macquart. He’s a painter who sees a visual symphony in the market chaos, while she’s a fuller-figured gal who just wants to be bourgeois.

In this Orson edition, Ian Sklarsky’s Cocteau-esque blind-contour drawings reveal a Second Empire created through the photographs of Charles Marville and paintings by Manet and Cézanne.

Translation and introduction by Brian Nelson, with the permission and participation of Oxford University Press; first published in print as an Oxford World’s Classic in 2007. Narration by Tim Campbell.

emile zola

Émile Zola

Émile Zola was born in Paris in 1840, the son of a Venetian engineer and his French wife. He grew up in Aix-en-Provence where he made friends with Paul Cézanne. After an undistinguished school career and a brief period of dire poverty in Paris, Zola joined the newly founded publishing firm of Hachette before embarking in 1871 on the creation of his Rougon-Macquart series.

Rougon-Macquart is a staggering achievement: a cycle of 20 novels about the influence of heredity and environment on several generations of a fragmented family in the Second Empire of Napoleon III. Only with the publication of the seventh novel L’Assommoir, a study of alcoholism in the working classes, did Zola win wealth and fame. The last volume of the Rougon-Macquart series appeared in 1893.

Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902 after accusing the French military of antisemitism in the trial of Alfred Dreyfus. Foul play was never proven.

ian sklarsky

Ian Sklarsky

Blind contour artist Ian Sklarsky creates his ink and watercolor drawings with a single continuous line, never taking his eyes off the subject. He has developed an adult coloring book for Yotel and demoed for TED audiences. His 1,000+ portraits include commissions from the Oslo Freedom Forum.

tim campbell

Tim Campbell

A classically trained opera singer and stage actor, Tim Campbell is the voice of multiple USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors and series.  He has narrated nearly 150 titles for Audible Studios, Harper Collins, Recorded Books, and others. He performs regularly with the Fresno Grand Opera, Pacific Opera Project, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the Los Angeles Opera Chorus.

Key features

  • Original illustrations by Ian Sklarsky
  • Images by Cézanne, Manet, Robert Doisneau, and Charles Marville
  • Historical map and dramatis personae to track characters
  • Pop-up footnotes


  • Orson publication date: 2017
  • Original edition publication date: 2007
  • Original edition publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Narrator: Tim Campbell
  • Editor: Benjamin Morse
  • Translation: Brian Nelson

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