Maupassant is an elegant writer (or else the translator is), and Bel-Ami reads beautifully. It's engaging, witty, and yes, Duroy is an absolute bastard, a vile, reprehensible, self-serving jerk of the type you simultaneously hate and respect for how much sheer skill he has at being the bastard that he so wonderfully is. Because let's face it, without the enabling attitudes of all the people he's manipulated into his schemes, he wouldn't be nearly so successful, and without the charm to engage these individuals, he couldn't go on being such a bastard. He's just the kind of guy you look at on the street and think, "My God, what a dick!", and the novel is engrossing because of that visceral reaction, not in spite of it. And as I have a particular fondness for despicable characters with few redeeming qualities who remain consistently despicable throughout the entire story, I enjoyed Bel-Ami very much.