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Life and Death during the Second Empire (from Big Book Review Page - Facebook)
on 14 December 2015
The second in Zola's Rougon-Macquart twenty volume series, and the first to be set in Paris concerns Aristide Rougon (who during this novel changes his last name to Saccard - and is the focus of a later volume, Money, already reviewed here), his arrival in Paris from Plassans, and his gradual rise as a a property speculator, during Haussmann's transformation of the city under Napoleon III.
His first wife dies, he then marries a much younger woman for a large dowery and to bring respectability to the lovely Renee, and with this dowry starts his long climb to fame and fortune. Along the way his estranged, and slightly effeminate, son comes to live with him and eventually has an affair with the neurotic Renee.
Zola's poetic descriptions of life and death during the Second Empire and it's lusts for money and pleasure are a delight and his finely drawn characters excite. And being a 19th century novel, it's never going to have a happy ending, but there is none of the sentimentality of, say, a Dickens.
Even though it is only the second of twenty, already his style is firmly cemented for the following stories, and I've not come across a bad one yet!