Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sin of Father Mouret (La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret) by Emile Zola

A disappointing departure from naturalism
Of the twenty books in the Rougon-Macquart series, this (the fifth book) is one of my least favorites. It is uncharacteristic of Zola’s writing style, and doesn’t read like a part of the series at all. The book starts out well enough. Zola describes the small village of Les Artauds where Serge Mouret serves as parish priest, the lives of its none-too-pious inhabitants, and the role the Church plays in their everyday lives. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that the Sin mentioned in the title is that he falls in love with a woman. From there the book goes downhill. Zola abandons his trademark naturalism for a less realistic style that seems to be a throwback to earlier symbolist literature. The characters are largely allegorical. We see them as symbols for “Religion” or “Nature”, rather than as three-dimensional human beings. Perhaps it’s just my perspective as a twenty-first century reader that makes it hard for me to identify with two characters frolicking in an enchanted garden. The love affair is too idyllic, to the point of tedium. The book feels like a short story that has been drawn out to the length of a novel. Or perhaps it would have worked better as a poem, considering the bulk of the love scenes are comprised of long descriptive passages about nature. Those who want to tackle the entire Rougon-Macquart series should (and will, of course) read this book. Others should avoid it.
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