Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)
Georges Duroy wanders the streets of Paris with enough money to either for two more meals or two drinks. Luck has it that he runs into a fellow soldier from his time in the military and he doesn't only invite him to dinner, he also offers to help him get a job as a journalist. And Georges seizes every opportunity he gets to climb in society and into bed with women - as long as they can help him, of course.
This is one of the classics that blew my mind! A man with no moral sleeping his way up to the top. Not that most of the women weren't innocent, they had their own reasons for entertaining Bel-Ami, the name which they called him as he was truly a beau. And if it hadn't been for the tell-tale signs like horse carriers and telegrams and the political discussions about French colonisation of North Africa, this could have been set in our time (except than it probably would have been graphic sex instead of kisses on the hands and cheeks).
It was such a quick read - was already halfway when the aeroplane landed and I just had to finish it today. The only thing that was annoying was the end, I always hoped for some better (in other words scandalous) end to Georges De Roy.
A new film version is out soon - with Robert Pattison (definitely not my kind) starring as Bel-Ami, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci as some of his lovers. This ought to be good!
I'm also glad to discover that the 1001 list includes more books by Guy de Maupassant and I hope they're even more scandalous than this one.