This was one of those books that I discovered in an extremely roundabout way. It started with Netflix... One of the "suggestions for you to watch" was The Paradise- a BBC mini-series. I just happened to be in the mood for a boring British period drama (yes, sometimes I actually get into this sort of mood. it's kind of strange), so I started watching. First off, it was better than I expected and a highly recommend it to anyone who likes shows along the lines of Downton Abbey. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to look up the book it was based on. I, shamefully, had no idea who Emile Zola was or even that The Ladies' Paradise was French. I have been schooled.... And now plan to read many more of Zola's social/romantic novels.
For The Ladies' Paradise is exactly that, both a social commentary on capitalism, economics and early feminism, as well as a traditional love story (that wavers back and forth between traditional and rebellious in a way that will keep a non-romance reader's attention). It is the story of one of the first colossal department stores in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century and the effect such an entity has on both the commercial model and on the human beings subject to it. At the same time, it is the story of men and women and the struggle of power raging between them. The characters are surprisingly modern for 1883 and I felt myself rooting for Denise, the heroine, throughout the book.
Granted, nineteenth century literature isn't for everyone, but I found this to be one of the most accessible books from the time period that I've read so far. Whether you're interested in the social and economic issues or just looking for a classic romance with a twist, this book is sure to entertain and enlighten you at the same time.