Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Le Rêve (The Dream) by Emile Zola

Fractured fairy tale
Within Zola’s body of work, this odd little book sticks out like a sore thumb. A stylistic departure from Zola’s characteristic Naturalism, it reads almost like a fairy tale. Angelique, the illegitimate daughter of Sidonie Rougon, is adopted by a married couple in the town of Beaumont. Angelique learns the family trade, embroidering tapestries and vestments for the town’s cathedral. She grows up in the shadow of this thirteenth-century cathedral, leading the cloistered life of an artisan. Reading becomes her favorite recreation, and romantic tales of saints and ancient royalty fascinate her. Within the centuries-old walls of the family home and the adjacent garden, Angelique leads a peaceful, content existence which imbues her with innocence and naiveté. Her passage from childhood to womanhood is irrelevant to her and goes largely unnoticed, until a young man enters her life and inspires in her dreams of a future life beyond the garden walls.

Angelique is such a likeable character that the reader really roots for her to succeed in achieving those dreams. One almost forgets how totally unbelievable the plot is. The book is a pleasant enough read, but utterly inconsequential. Upon finishing the book, one asks what’s the point? It adds little to the Rougon-Macquart series as a whole. Zola’s knack for descriptive thoroughness hits and misses in this book. His vivid depictions of the artisans’ home, their lifestyle, their trade and craft captivate the reader. His long lists of saints and kings, on the other hand, inspire fatigue. Anyone who is reading the entire Rougon-Macquart series obviously should and will read this book. Casual fans of Zola’s writing would probably do better to skip it.

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