L'Assommoir (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 5 Nov 1998
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Nobody else put off by the fact that the very title contains a typo?Published 21 months ago by Amazon Customer
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!Published on 17 Nov. 2013 by Mim
There are few novels as bleak and unrelenting as this one, at least in my reading experience. Over 500 pages, you witness the aspirations and grotesque decline of a working-class... Read morePublished on 13 Jun. 2011 by rob crawford
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... Read morePublished on 21 July 2010 by socksMan
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... Read morePublished on 30 Sept. 2009 by bookelephant
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... Read morePublished on 2 July 2009 by Mr. T. Harvey
This book is masterful. I defy anyone to read certain episodes in this book (the cruel death of little Lalie Bijard, and the sad decline of Per Bru to name but two) without being... Read morePublished on 14 Feb. 2007 by Puskas
The fact this was written in France over a hundred years ago takes absolutely nothing away from the understanding of the reader. Read morePublished on 17 Dec. 2002