This selection from Zola's large repertoire of short stories captures many facets of late nineteenth century French society. They are an excellent introduction to this writer's work and should tempt the beginner into tackling the vaster canvasses of the Rougon-Macquart series. Zola writes convincingly about many layers of society, from the bored aristocrats, the petit bourgeosie to the peasants and artisans. He also lavishes his descriptions of both town and countryside, with mouth watering word pictures that make you want to rush for the Eurostar! Many of them are similar in style and power to Maupassant - punchy and often savagely ironical (The Story of a Madman, for example). But the more substantial stories blend a powerful narrative, lyrical descriptions and real "bite" to make this a memorable read. "Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre" has a predictable plot but Zola draws out the burgeoning romance at the heart of the story in order to develop the lovers' appreciation of the beauty of the coastal resort - all which passes over the head of the tedious and unresponsive cuckholded Monsieur Chabre. "Fair Exchange" - the other gem in this collection - shows by degrees how the apparently unprepossessing Adele comes to dominate her artistically superior but morally inferior husband. Zola's insights into the artistic community of late nineteenth century France are penetrating and convincing.
The translation does full justice to the flamboyance and earthiness of Zola's prose. This is an highly recommended collection of vivid, lyrical and sensual vignettes.