Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Une Page d’Amour by Emile Zola

A harmless bit of fluff
This book reminds me of a Latin-American soap opera: It stars a plucky young heroine who falls in love (forbidden love, of course); the plot features some preposterous circumstances; it’s overwrought with deliberately tear-jerking emotion; yet you can’t help but watch because the lead actress is so attractive and charming. In this case the star of the show is Helene Mouret, a character so beautiful and likeable that you can’t help but root for her. Unfortunately, she is the most realistically drawn character in the book, and the rest of the cast feel like caricatures. Helene, a widow with a young daughter, falls in love with a handsome doctor, which is not totally understandable to the reader, because as a character the doctor is a bit of a nonentity. The ridiculous set of coincidences that bring the two lovers together approaches the realm of farce. I don’t want to make it sound like a horrible book; it’s just mediocre in every way. The story doesn’t have much to say historically about France’s Second Empire, other than perhaps the plight of young widows at the time. It’s difficult for the reader to feel sorry for Helene, because one never really feels like she is on the verge of destitution or disgrace. The book contains some long descriptive passages about the Paris skyline which are poetically pretty, but don’t add much to the narrative. Those who wish to read the entire Rougon-Macquart series will of course read this book. It is certainly not the worst book of the bunch. Casual readers of Zola’s works can skip it.
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