on 9 December 2001
This is a fantastic book - powerful in its critical exposure of the decadence and moral emptiness of its characters and their environment, as well as of the social and political backdrop in which the novel is set. Nana is a product of the Parisian underclass, and this is the story of her rise from the gutter, how she uses her body to capture the attentions of wealthy, foolish middle-aged men, and how she brings down destruction on all those she entraps and manipulates. It is a highly moral tale, despite the fact that the book initially suffered from the censors of the day. Zola's descriptions of the sleazy Paris theatre house where Nana is first discovered - he always meticulously researched his subjects - are totally convincing and evocative of the era and location. Nana rises and falls, and rises again, she is an embodiment, a symbol of all that Zola found rotten and corrupt in the politics and society of his day. Please buy this book - it is unforgettable - the gruesome final paragraph of the novel will stay in your mind forever.
on 9 March 2008
With l'Assommoir, the best novel by Zola. This story of a young courtisane who breaks all rich men's hearts is a metaphor for the revenge of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Nana avenges the poor in her own way, she never forgets her origins, and that is what will be her downfall, eventually.
I also highly recommend the TV miniseries 'Nana' with Véronique Genest, broadcast in the 80's (available on amazon.fr). You'll agree that generally, film adaptations of novels are disappointing, in that case it's not. The adaptation is brilliant and perfectly captures the novel's atmosphere; the actress Veronique Genest incarnates a wonderful Nana, very faithful to the essence of the character.
But read the novel first!
on 22 June 2016
An interesting read, Nana is about a female protagonist, who embodies a wider social malaise & a society on the cusp of historical crisis.
The novel charts Nana's rise as an actress without any talent but whose sheer sex appeal ensures her success, her fall & subsequent triumph as she manipulates one of the men obsessed with her to regain prominence and settle scores (two empires between a fall). Nana is presented as a force of nature whose rapacity devours men and money. She seems contemporary in her excess & consumption yet curiously dissatisfied as she seeks constant excitement. She is amoral especially in her treatment of Count Muffat, her most devoted admirer, and ironically her two most passionate relationships are with a man & a woman just as amoral as her.
Yet as someone mentioned on imdb re: the 1968 BBC version (not available, unfortunately), it is about men being destroyed by their indulgences. I think it's wrong to view Nana as just as a femme fatale, absolving the men in the story of any responsibility for their actions. The men represent the establishment & all its hypocrisies. The ruling elite are presented as bankrupt, literally (the deliciously decadent Vandeuvres) & in terms of morals. The Marquis Chouard is an old man who frequents sleazy haunts & then rails against failing morals, another theme of the book is sexual & social hypocrisy (as reflected in Ch. 11 at the horse races where the courtesans gather but are barred from one area of the track reserved for respectable society women).
Yet, ironically, the aristocratic & world of the demimonde are in constant collision (at the theatre & backstage, the race track, brothels & places of disrepute, in the country as rich men bought their mistresses homes there) & perhaps reflect each other: one appears respectable but where the men talk about midnight assignations & undress society women with their eyes - and in the end, the sensuality that Nana represents worms its way into the very foundations of the most aristocratic of salons, even though she is barred from entry herself.
The Marquis Chouard is the father-in-law of Comte (Count) Muffat. The novel doesn't contain a great deal of plot in my opinion & is more of a character study/fable of a woman's rise and fall, but Count Muffat's infatuation & romantic obsession provide the motor of the novel as Zola focusses on a man of dogmatic Catholic faith who cannot resist temptation. Nana undermines the elite at all levels: business (Steiner), the arts (Fauchery), the Army (Philippe Hugon), government, aristocracy & religion (Muffat). All prove rotten. Reason & faith prove no defence against instinct & the body. However, the forces of reaction hover in the background in the much ridiculed figure of the Count Muffat's frigid daughter, Estelle, waiting to reassert themselves.
It's strange to think that Zola was supposedly a failed dramatist because he is adept in dialogue and creating great scenes such as the one in chapter 10 where Nana & her lesbian lover, Satin, another victim/hardened survivor of the Paris slums, rail against the aristocratic men sitting at table with them, the ultimate irony is that the two ladies are intent on spending the night together. As Nana says, 'You ought to have been there to feed us, dear' when they needed bread as hungry children, chastising the men who now lavish her with jewels she momentarily desires but then casts aside later disinterestedly.
It's cleverly structured, the first chapter & the last correspond, chapter 3 & chapter 12 (set in the Countess Muffat's residence), the first half about Nana’s rise & fall, the 2nd about her triumph. It's filled with memorable secondary characters, like Nana's faithful maid, Zoe, who is working her own angle; and the corrupt Vandeuvres, who appears only too self-aware that he is on the verge of self-destruction in a way that so many of the other characters fail to realise as the Second Empire heads towards to defeat against Prussia.
I gave the book 4-stars because I wondered if the subject matter merited such length (450 pages), few of the characters are likeable or empathetic. Chekhov wrote a short story called 'Ariadne' (1895) which covers similar themes, a predatory woman & an obsessed man, which is ultimately a plea for female equality & education for women. Zola's novel is more than entertaining, much more salacious & explicit & not without moments of comedy (farce), but Chekhov's story is just as poignant in its depiction of a (hopelessly idealistic) man in love with a manipulative, shallow woman & he is able to recreate distinct worlds & personalities (& attitudes to life) in a matter of twenty pages.
on 30 September 2009
The sequel to Zola's masterpiece L'Assomoir, Nana follows the story of Gervaise's daughter Nana (whose earlier years are depicted in that novel) after she left home and went to the bad. Established as a courtesan/actress her vitality, exquisite colouring, humour and native viciousness carry her to the top of her particular tree - and I defy anyone not to be somewhat charmed by her, for all that we see her true colours! We travel with her in her rise, seeing along the way the rotten underbelly of the Second Empire, the bohemian life of the acting world, and the alliances and squabbles of the leading courtesans. Indeed Nana does so well that she could become honest and retire to the country - as it appears some of her colleauges have done. But her weak character (Zola's bee in his bonnet) won't permit her to do this, and so we can ride with her on her fall back to the streets, her second rise - and her exquisitely symbolic destruction.
As always with Zola, not a laugh a minute, and people don't, on the whole, end well. However Nana's perverse charm, humour and zest for life make this one of the more upbeat Zola novels.
on 14 September 2015
This is the second Zola book I have read, the other being "Germinal", and if you were to read them both without knowing the authors you wouldn't guess that they were written by the same person, so different they are in style. This is a satirical look at the damage caused by a prostitute in fashionable Parisian society, and reads rather like an episode of Balzac's "La Comedie Humaine". So I read up on Zola and found that he was indeed influenced by Balzac and his famous series. Zola's own series follows the fortunes of an extended family during the 2nd Empire ("Nana" in fact ends at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war), and it turns out that Etienne from "Germinal" and Nana are actually related.
Well worth a read, particularly if you enjoyed "Le Pere Goriot" and/or "La Cousine Bette". But if you haven't read "Germinal" you should give that a try first - harder work, but more rewarding.
on 14 September 1999
No drugs, no rock 'n' roll but plenty of sex. Great entertainment in itself, this book is best read as a sequel to "L'Assommoir" ("Drunkard") whose tragic downtrodden heroine can be said, in a way, to have got her revenge on society through her daughter, Nana. You might say it's a case of the underclass striking back and one wonders how today's acting and modelling scene compares with Second Empire Paris. Someone once said that every woman is sitting on a gold mine and Nana certainly proves it. Trouble is, she also proves the old saying "easy come, easy go". What would have happened if they'd had smallpox jabs in those days?