Friday, July 16, 2010

Oh, la la ... Zola

Paris in July wouldn't be complete without spending time with Emile Zola. My fascination began about eighteen months ago when a former blogger's review inspired me to pick up Therese Raquin (my review). The novels offers an amazing portrayal of the effects of guilt and is truly one of the best psychological dramas I've read.

The Classics Circuit's April tour provided the motivation to return to Zola. This time, I chose The Ladies' Paradise (my review) from the Les Rougon Macquart twenty novel series. The 1883 novel focuses on the rise of the modern department store in Paris and has a surprisingly contemporary feel. From the owner/capitalists, to the workers, to the nearby small businessmen with eroding livelihoods, Zola puts a face to all sides of the issue... and I put Zola on my list of favorite authors.

On my most recent visit to New York City, there was an opportunity to browse the cozy Shakespeare & Co.'s Broadway location. Lately, I have fallen into the habit of perusing the "Z" shelves. Without fail, the only titles available in my city are Therese Raquin, Nana, and Germinal, so I'm always curious to see what else might be out there.

Several out of the ordinary titles were in stock, but it was The Belly of Paris that caught my eye. I love food, cooking, and culinary concerns in general (Lakeside Kitchen is my other blog), plus I was reminded of Karen's wonderful review.  There were even two translations available! This was too good to pass up.  After sampling a portion of each, I settled on the Modern Library Classics edition translated by Mark Kurlansky. My plan is to read this in the fall.

Finally, there was the collection of short stories Dead Men Tell No Tales. Regular reader of this blog know I rediscovered short stories last year and try to participate in Short Story Monday regularly. How could I pass up an opportunity to sample some of Zola's short fiction?

"The Girl Who Loves Me", written in 1864 when Zola was just 24 years old, appeared in his first collection of stories. The eleven pages center around a carnival attraction called The Mirror of Love. For a mere two sous, men are encouraged to step forward and gaze upon "the girl who loves you".

The story opens with the narrator's speculation on the girl's identity:
"Is the girl who loves me a fine lady dressed in silk and lace and jewels, reclining on a sofa in her boudoir, dreaming of our love? Is She a marchioness or a duchess, as light-footed and dainty as a dream, languorously trailing her long flowing white gown over sumptuous rugs with a charming pout, softer than a smile, on her lips?"
It moves on with a beautiful, detailed description of the fair itself. I was reminded of passages from The Ladies Paradise describing gorgeous silks or those in Therese Raquin when Camille's decomposing body lies in the morgue. Zola certainly paints a vivid picture with his words!

Eventually, the story settles into themes his novels will explore in greater detail. Human wants and desire are examined. Zola shows what happens when they collide with life's harsh realities. This is definitely the work of the young writer whose work would come to be so strongly associated with Naturalism. I'll continue reading this collection throughout the summer.

Have you read Zola? Do you plan to? Paris in July (hosted by Karen and Tamara) would be an idea time to start.


  1. I love Zola. I'm trying to decide which of his to read next.

  2. No, I haven't. I read Madame Bovary - but I just checked and that is by Flaubert, not Zola, as I thought. What a total culture barbarian!

    I may try him some time. After your next review of him, maybe! :-)

  3. I haven't read Zola but I'm going next to your review of Therese Raquin and maybe I will start there.

  4. I read Nana a couple of months ago and liked it a lot (some feel that Zola's view of human nature is too dark)-I also posted for Paris in July on Zola's short story "The Death of Oliver Bescaille" -it was the first Zola short story I have read-I liked but was not crazy for it-

  5. I read L'Assommoir a couple of years ago for a bookgroup & loved it. It was like watching a car crash about to happen. Horrifying but compelling at the same time. I wanted to look away but I couldn't. I read Nana & Therese Raquin many years ago & I'd like to reread them & recently I've read Ladies Paradise & Pot Luck. Not sure what to read next.

  6. Warmth loves Zola and started reading Les Rouges Macquart series. I'm a little wary having seen the most appalling local theatre company production of Theres Raquin (we left I'm already intrigued by The Girl Who Loves Me.'

  7. I've never read any before, but those short stories sound great - my favourite style of writing anyway, so thank you for the pointer towards Dead Men Tell No Tales. It's on the wishlist! The Belly of Paris sounds amazing too - so much to discover...

  8. I've never read anything by Zola. Thanks to you, I will change that! (Which book do you recommend as a starter?)

  9. Amanda - That's my main problem with Zola... too many choices!

    Leeswammes - LOL! The Belly of Paris will be next for me.

    Staci - I think that's the perfect place to start.

    Mel u - I remember your Zola posts! Nana and The Belly of Paris were both in the running for my next choice, but decided to buy TBOP as long as I had the chance.

    Lyn - So many choices with Zola! I'm intrigued with L'Assommoir... sounds like you are a fan, too. Thanks for commenting.

    Joan Hunter Dunn - A bad theater production can do that! Several of his short stories are available on the internet, but I couldn't find The Girl Who Loves Me.

    Jane - Yes, there is definitely a lot to discover with Zola. His books aren't fast moving, but they are fascinating!

    DS - I think Theresa Raquin is the perfect place to start. It's fairly short, was his first major novel, and a great read, too!

  10. Once upon a time I think I read some Zola for a turn of the century course (maybe a history course!!) but I don't remember now. With everyone's thoughts on Zola lately I've been tempted but I have to admit that for some reason I'm incredibly intimidated by him! Guess I shouldn't be--his writing sounds beautiful.

  11. Trish - His writing IS beautiful! The books aren't fast-moving, but I've enjoyed them quite a bit. Hope you decided to give Zola a try.

  12. I am reading Germinal. I am only on page 38, but I like it. Unfortunately, other books keep interrupting me, but I intend to finish it (hopefully by the end of the month), but if not into august.

    Thanks for posting about him. Totally enjoyed it.

  13. Brenda - I'll definitely get to Germinal one of these days. I know it's not a quick read though, especially if you're reading other books too. Thanks for visiting!

  14. I'm reading Therese Raquin at the moment.. but slowly because there are so many things to do.. hopefully I'll finish before Paris in July ends! :D

  15. Claire - I think you're going to love it, even if it isn't finished by the end of Paris in July! Take your time and enjoy...

  16. Thanks for including a link to my review! I hope you like The Belly of Paris as much as I did -- I am a sucker for food fiction and memoirs. I just finished The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin and loved it. I'm also hoping to get to more Zola this summer as well, probably Therese Raquin.

  17. Karen - I love Zola and food books, so this is sure to be a winner for me. Hope you have time for Therese Raquin this summer!


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