assommoir By Emile Zola

This possibly one of the bleakest books I have ever read. I am no stranger to Zola having read La Debacle, Germinal, Therese Raquin, Nana and some others. However, none of them have the pathos of this and there really is no glimmer of hope in this novel that I can see.

About a third in I found myself getting a little fed up with it as the plot started resembling a bad season of Eastenders. Or, rather what I imagine Eastenders to be like as I haven’t really watched it. Zola said that his novel was the only book about the common people that doesn’t lie, but i’m not sure. It does seem a bit exagerated at times – like Eastenders. They are all having affairs, no one cares about the children, there’s gossip, sniping and families breaking up. There was only one murder though.

I’m glad I read it but it wasn’t as good as La Debacle or Germinal even, which wasn’t a soap opera but still about the working people. There was craft in this but I don’t know why the critics say that this novel is the most masterful example of Zola’s craft. The action did just seem to be at one level and often quite superficial as it moved from one episode to another.

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