Monday, May 14, 2012
L’Assomoir by Emile Zola
After 100+ years, still a relevant and moving work
This is the book that made Émile Zola a star, and rightfully so. It is a gripping and heart-wrenching novel. Of all the books in the Rougon-Macquart series, this one is probably the purest representation of the literature of Naturalism. Zola amasses a palette full of sensory experience and observational detail. With it he paints a gritty, unromantic portrait of life among the lower middle class in Paris. The protagonist, Gervaise Macquart, starts out as a respectable laundress. Then the book follows her descent into destitution, via alcohol and moral dissipation, through succeeding levels of hell on earth. The interaction of the characters and the events that take place ring true each step along the way, so one can completely understand, regrettably, how this character you liked and admired at the beginning of the narrative could become so pitiable by the end of it. True to reality, her downfall stems from both events beyond her control and also from poor choices she makes. There were only one or two instances in the story where I felt like the characters made choices that didn’t seem in keeping with their natures, but the fact that it bothers me is just a testament to how involved I was with these characters in the first place. This novel is a thoughtful examination of social ills, and an excellent study of human nature. Despite its historical context, it gave me a better understanding of people in today’s society who have fallen on hard times. Although this book is a part of the Rougon-Macquart series, you don’t have to know anything about the other novels in the series to appreciate it. It stands alone as a great work of literature, and should be read by all.
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