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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A desperate tale of poverty and hardship in the 19th Century
The books of Emile Zola were recommended to me by a friend so I decided to try this one. It exceeded all of my expectations; I was prepared for a difficult, laborious read and instead found myself instantly engrossed. I find it incredible that a book written over 125 years ago could be so enjoyable today. I don't often read classic literature, finding it sometimes to...
Published on 14 Feb 2006 by Joanne Schofield

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars L'Assommoir - a relentless read
Zola doesn't spare the reader. This account of a laundress' progress from relatively comfortable existence to grinding poverty is relentless, never letting up for a minute as the author depicts the day to day life of a group of people living on the breadline in late 19th century Paris. In the world of 'L'Assommoir', no-one talks over a problem, they argue and fight;...
Published on 2 July 2009 by Mr. T. Harvey


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A desperate tale of poverty and hardship in the 19th Century, 14 Feb 2006
By 
Joanne Schofield (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The books of Emile Zola were recommended to me by a friend so I decided to try this one. It exceeded all of my expectations; I was prepared for a difficult, laborious read and instead found myself instantly engrossed. I find it incredible that a book written over 125 years ago could be so enjoyable today. I don't often read classic literature, finding it sometimes to be a struggle, but can honestly say that this entire book was a pleasure to read (even if some of the scenes were unbelievably disturbing).
The book ultimately recounts the life of Gervaise, a young French woman. We see her climb high and achieve happiness and success, but then witness the downwards spiral of her destruction. But the book isn't solely about Gervaise, as Zola introduces many other characters, whose traits all juxtapose with one another, creating a melting pot of comedy, drama and tension. He also depicts the most dreadful scenes of poverty and hardship, scenes that are almost unbelievable to imagine living in the luxury of the 21st Century. Zola's talent in slowly building up characters and plot make the book the success it is; he takes his time to describe scenes, for example he spends the whole of Chapter 7 describing Gervaise's great feast. But these lengthy scenes don't hinder the novel in the slightest, instead they give the reader time to slowly and gradually absorb all of the details. I felt as though I had stepped into the pages of this book.
Overall a remarkable piece of writing. This will certainly not be my last novel by Zola.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars L'Assommoir - a relentless read, 2 July 2009
By 
Zola doesn't spare the reader. This account of a laundress' progress from relatively comfortable existence to grinding poverty is relentless, never letting up for a minute as the author depicts the day to day life of a group of people living on the breadline in late 19th century Paris. In the world of 'L'Assommoir', no-one talks over a problem, they argue and fight; no-one eats and drinks, they gorge and booze. Drink dominates lives and when a slap up meal is organised to mark a celebration, the characters make themselves ill because their stomachs are not used to such quantities of food. Sexual matters are freely discussed using the profanest of language. The pawnbroker or 'Uncle' is a constant presence in everyone's lives Buildings are grimy, clothes are shabby.

All of this is described in the minutest detail. Zola spares us nothing. This is vivid, 'in your face' writing. Too vivid sometimes: for example, the description of a character wallowing in his own vomit after a heavy drinking session, almost had me throwing up.

This is the problem with 'L'Assommoir'. It just doesn't let up. There is no contrast, no 'light and shade'. It is depressing.

And yet, I guess this is Zola's intention. It is meant to be depressing; he wanted to highlight the desperate lives of the Parisian underclass and to make the conditions in which they lived more widely known.

It is a powerful novel, but not an easy read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best classic novel!, 17 Aug 2005
By A Customer
I studied this book for part of my English Literature dissertation and can safely say it is the best piece of literature I have ever encountered, on or off my university course. Once I managed to pry it away from myself long enough to write a review, I found it nearly impossible to find the right words to give this book the justice it deserves.
Zola chose to defy the modesty and restraint exercised by many authors in the nineteenth-century, and instead exposed the harrowing lifestyles and troubled relationships of working class Paris. He focused on the immense hardships the poor struggled to overcome and brought to light the harsh realities of the lower classes in their daily struggle to survive. He accurately portrays nineteenth-century working class Paris, combining sorrow, misery, anguish, desperation and despair to produce one of the finest, most descriptive and most moving texts the period can boast.
Zola's frank, yet touching manner of expressing himself without glorifying any details ensured the text was given my full attention from start to finish. I found the base treatment of women and the crude behaviour and beliefs of certain characters deliciously shocking, and this was in the year 2005! I couldn't help but wonder how reading audiences reacted to it in 1877 and found myself compelled to research this text as part of my university studies and learn more about it.
I haven't yet discovered a book that has generated so much power and feeling, having summarised my own thoughts of this book and having read through other reviews of it. It is so much more intense and heart-felt than many modern texts. I have since ordered Nana and am keen to experience more of Zola's works; fortunately there are plenty more of them to keep me satisfied! If they are anything like L'Assommoir, then I know I won't be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best novels of all time, 30 Sep 2009
I cannot go a year without re-reading this book - it is for me one of the very best ever written - despite the fact that it is a tragic book, and I generally prefer something rather more heartwarming.
It forms part of Zola's great Rougon-Macquart cycle, wherein he depicts France, by showing characters from the family in a wide range of situations, while at the same time arguing his point about nature and nurture. The herione of this novel, Gervaise, is part of the "weak" Macquart stock - and this should be enough to tell you that all will not end well for her. The tragedy is that Gervaise really, really wants to succeed on a small scale - to work hard and honestly and have enough to get by - and for the first part of the novel she does so, in a truly admirable fashion. But then circumstances, and her own nature, conspire against her, and Zola takes us with her every step of the way of her fall from prosperous business owner to alcoholic down and out.
Utterly compelling, tragic and beautiful. It is one of the regrets of my life that I do not read French well wnough to read it in the original.
By the by, if you like this - do look at Jane Grigson's "Food with the Famous" in which she recreates Gervaise's last high moment - her name day feast - linking recipes to the text.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L'Assommoir is the greatest work of an unapreciated genius, 8 May 2002
By A Customer
This is probably Zola's greatest work combining his overpowering skill as a descriptive author alongside the empathy for his characters that he inspires. In L'Assommoir, Zola achives an intricate portrayal of Parisian life in the nineteenth century through the intentions and thoughts of his characters without getting swamped in overworked plot or character description. This work is a masterpiece of human thought and feeling which I highly recommend.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a masterpiece, 3 Nov 2009
By 
This review is from: L'Assommoir (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
If you've never read Zola, please take note of other reviewers who after reading one of his books have ordered another, even if not ordinarily given to reading 19th-century French novels.

Gervaise comes to Paris with her lover and their two children. Lantier, her partner, deserts her but she soon drifts into marriage with a solid workingman. All goes smoothly until this husband, Coupeau, is injured on the job. Good-hearted Gervaise nurses him back to health though not back to work, but still, through the good graces of an infatuated neighbour, she acquires her own business. She is successful--to her neighbours' envy--but at the acme of her happiness Lantier reappears and gradually her life falls into decline.

A couple of things that interest me about the story are Gervaise's tragic flaw and Zola's scheme. Gervaise has ambition and spirit, but what ultimately drags her down is nothing more than what used to be called complaisance and now is called 'going with the flow.' Neither she nor any of the other characters is wicked or altogether intolerable (except for the dreadul Lalie); their failings are not on a grand scale. Nor do Zola's notions of the primacy of heredity need to be used to account for these people's foibles. The environment of poverty he describes is sufficient for that.

There are despite the bleakness comic scenes and characters (Mme Lerat, e.g., who though brooking no obscenities manages to find a salacious meaning in the most innocent of remarks). And though I usually merely tolerate descriptive passages, Zola's descriptions bring an immediacy and sensuality that no one else's do. I loathe over-heated rooms and the smell of meat cooking, but how I long to be at that name-day feast; I've no interest in 19th-century laundry techniques and I dislike violence, but Zola makes me want to stand at that laundry door and watch the fight; I'm not given to fondling teenagers, but golly, Nana sounds squeezable. Today I looked up into a bright autumnal sky and felt a tiny bit of what it must be to be cold and starving and looking up into a yellow dusk over a city with the smell of snow in the air.

This was I think my 5th reading of the book and still I enjoy and admire it enormously. Please give it a try.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great translation of a great book, 21 July 2010
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This review is from: L'Assommoir (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
One of the important points made in the translator's foreword of this edition (which I once owned and stupidly lent, never to be returned) is that Zola actually wrote this novel in a coarse form of contemporary French, which was almost like Parisian street slang at times. Tancock carries this over in this translation, and in doing so provides a much more powerful experience for the reader than other versions I have read. It's not dainty, or toned down, but is much more raw and real, and more formally satisfying, because of it. You can smell the squalour in this version, but because of the brusqueness of the language, it has a slight humourous edge as well, which can offset some of the darker moments, and prevent it from becoming overly maudlin - a failing of some other translations, which tend to overplay the pathos. So if you really want to experience the raw power of this novel, try to get this translation.

The story itself is a deeply moving and also shocking one, all the more so for being laced through with a faint thread of hope, at least until the later stages. Although personally, I think this not Zola's greatest work (I would rate 'Germinal' higher, and I think 'La Debacle' may be more compelling a ride, and more horrific), for me Gervaise is his best-drawn character, by a mile. The first time I finished this book I remember finding myself, the following morning, looking in a local newspaper, and on the teletext (this was before the internet) for more news about Gervaise. The ending-so brutal, so shocking, and so dispassionately written, like a lens pulling away from its subject-had affected me that deeply. I remember being outraged, and experiencing a kind of mourning for this woman who, despite her failings, you couldn't help but sympathise with. As other reviewers have said, once read this story will stay with you forever.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Story, 17 Dec 2002
By A Customer
The fact this was written in France over a hundred years ago takes absolutely nothing away from the understanding of the reader. The story is gripping, I literally could not put it down, and the characters are so realistic and recognisable even from the perspective of a person in 2002. The futility of Gervaise's life and the descent into degeneration was so superbly and subtely written that the impact of this was that anyone could descend downwards given the right circumstances. Hard to find the right words to convey the power of this book or it's impact.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best novel you will ever read, 17 Nov 2013
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This review is from: L'Assommoir (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Describing this book as a masterpiece would not be an exaggeration in the slightest. My favourite book of all time. Read it and tell your friends!
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Angela's Ashes - from 100 yrs ago !, 11 Feb 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: L'Assommoir (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
If you liked the recent hit "ANGELA'S ASHES" by Frank McCourt, I urge you to try this book.
Don't be put off by the fact that it was written in French over 100yrs ago - this is no stuffy classic - in fact it is a superb slice of life - the reality & the dreams. L'Assommoir is a tragedy - real, vulgar, painful, bawdy, comical, and movingly human.
As a non-intellectual, I was stunned to find myself gripped by the lives of poor Parisians from 120 yrs ago. Yet hundreds of thousands of us have recently been enthralled by the story of a poverty-stricken Dublin childhood - so why not ? The depth and humanity of this novel mean I could identify with the characters far more than in 99% of modern novels.
My first encounter with Zola was 'La Bete Humaine', which I was amazed to discover, for an ancient (& foreign) 'classic', was a gripping thriller. I had to try another, and purely at random, bought L'Assommoir. I still believe this to be Zola's greatest, though I have now read many more, including 'Nana' and 'Germinal', which I understand are critically preferred.
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L'Assommoir (Classics)
L'Assommoir (Classics) by Emile Zola (Mass Market Paperback - 25 Jun 1970)
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