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on 5 April 2010
people tend to liken zola to dickens for the way in which he took a broad view of society, spending as much, if not more, time exploring and documenting the life of the working class than any other writer i can think of. this comparison is kind on dickens.

there are no cartoon villains or two-dimensional virgin waifs in zola, just credible, fallible characters who have a real reek of authenticity about them.

in l'assommoir zola documents the rise and fall of another member of the rougon-macquart clan, gervaise, who drags herself out of the gutter only to plunge back into it through by ill-chosen men and a displays of wealth designed to annoy her friends and family. the set-pieces involving gervaise's grand meals are spectacularly handled and oddly modern in the examination of politiking and display - anyone who has endured an excruciating dinner party or even christmas dinner with less than lovely inlaws will be nodding all the way through.

i don't want to give too much away but this is a book which does not disappoint. the translation - always a minefield with zola - is clear and concise and the dialogue especially gives a credible impression of the language and rhythm of working class speech.

if you have read nana already try this next and see her origins - if not order both as they are best appreciated together and do flow on.

five stars
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on 3 January 2016
Its a little early as I haven't finished it yet. Well I have, let me explain. You know how you flick thro pages when you get the book ? Well I caught a passage and carried on reading and couldn't put it down till the end. I have since started from the beginning and enjoying it but . . . I know the ending ! Takes the edge off. However looking into the poverty stricken life existing in Paris in 1850s is interesting. I haven't read any Zola (Earth) since my youth, now in my eighty's. However it left a mark in my memory which I have always valued therefore I picked L'Assommoir out of his many books because I liked the painted picture on the front and as 'Earth' was about Peasant life in the mid to late 1800's I thought I'd take a look how Zola saw Parisien life at that time. I understand the book caused a lot of controversy in France at the time. Its not for the faint hearted - very sad. There are some fun parts and it gets your mind working in all sorts of ways. Not crazy about the translation - bit too cockney at times but OK, things do get lost in translation. Enjoying it so much that I have since bought another Zola.
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on 7 October 2010
Paris - about the 1860s. Gervaise, a young laundress, is deserted by her drunkard lover Lantier and left with two children. Henceforth suspicious of men, she is finally won over by Coupeau, a roofer, because he doesn't drink. She opens a laundry business with money from another admirer, and things are going well. However, after a serious accident, Coupeau changes for the worst, starts boozing, and drags her down with him to an terrible alcoholic end. It all sounds like a total tale of misery, but there's something about Zola's marvellous style, his control of detail and naturalistic conversation, and his refusal - unlike any other mainstream C19th writer I've read - to self-censor the grubby and sexual aspects of life, that made it extraordinarily gripping. It brought home a sense of its era - the sheer heroism of poor people's struggle to stay respectable and to survive when one slip could cast you into the gutter - more clearly than any other similar novel I've come across. There are some amazing set-piece scenes too: a vastly long (but fascinating and truly French) description of a big meal, a fight between two women in a laundry, a visit by a wedding-party to the Louvre - and we get taken into many fascinating places of work as well as many wine-shops and bars, including the sinister L'Assommoir of the title. Why did no-one tell me before how good Zola is? And apparently there's acres of his stuff about...
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In my opinion Zola is the least high-brow of the literary greats, he writes with insight and his compassion for the plight of the working classes of his time is evident. Zola has been compared to Dickens and although a great compliment to most writers, personally I think Zola is better because his style is simpler and more earthy - for a real shocker of a portrayal of drunkenness and incest, see Zola's 'The Earth'.

L'Assommoir (The Pot House) is a tragic tale of the working classes living in the slums of Paris and centres on the aspirations of the easy-going Gervaise who yearns to run her own laundry. Without resorting to romantic and maudlin tactics, Zola describes in graphic detail the descent of our would-be heroine - is she destined for a life of drunkenness, promiscuity, filth and poverty? Hardly cheerful reading but the book is not without humour and in its own way, just as riveting as a modern thriller i.e. "what happens next?".

My own copy is from the 1970s and although the translation is good, I've found that newer copies of Zola's books have a much better colloquial translation and call a spade a spade which perhaps was not permitted in the early publications (the language in a particular scene in The Earth is quite course and in keeping with the characters). Zola's novels are absolutely brilliant, whether he is writing about the middle-classes and their scheming mistresses, incestuous siblings in village life or just the every day stifling poverty in the city, he gives us a good understanding of the people and period.
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on 21 October 2016
I'm a huge fan of 19th century French literature; romance, moral decay, deception, struggle, revolution, suffering, greed, corruption and class differences. Hugo's in depth story telling, explanations and detail; Maupassant's modern observational writing; Flaubert's romance and tragedy etc - but none of them show the gritty realism of Zola. All of the aforementioned authors give you an insight into the moral dilemmas and of life in nineteenth century Paris/France, but none of them show you the seedy rotting underbelly of French society quite like Zola, especially in this book. English authors of the time must have been shocked to read the passage where Coupeau is unconscious face down in his own cold puke while his wife gagging from the stench leaves him there so that she can sleep with her ex-husband in another room.
When you read this book, you can't help but compare it to modern news stories regarding social decay in the modern world; alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes/slaves, people in debt etc. Having read this book, I believe that I have a better understanding and empathy towards the modern equivalent characters; you get to understand the fragility of life and decisions that lead to the downward spiral.
Basically, it is the story of a girl who moves to Paris with a husband and a dream, only she is forced by various situations to ride a rollercoaster of success and failure - drink, poverty and debt are the key sources of decay in this story.
Others have described the plot, but before you read this book, prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride into depravity!
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on 9 November 2011
My introduction to Zola was a second hand copy of Germinal,bought for 25 p.After reading it I thought "it doesnt get much better than this!"L Assommoir proved me wrong.The characters came alive on the pages,the story was engrossing,so much so, that for weeks afterward it stayed in my mind.Im now "hooked on Zola",having read 3 more of his novels in the past month...I wish Id found him sooner!
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on 24 February 2016
A very gripping and moving read. It has to be admitted that we know how the story will end almost from the first page, but the strength of the book lies in the astonishingly vivid descriptions; few writers manage to evoke a scene quite as powerfully as Zola can. By the end of the book the reader feels almost exhausted and "wrung out" after sharing all the sufferings of the protagonist, but the book also arouses our compassion and sympathy and may also make us slightly less judgemental over those less fortunate than ourselves.

The translation is generally excellent but there are some colloquialisms which seem, to my ear at least, to jar. Presumably Zola used colloquial French at these points, but words such as "tootsies", "bum" and "noddle" seemed to strike the wrong note in the context.
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on 20 July 2016
I have just finished L'Assommoir. I am a fan of Emile Zola and this certainly comes up to expectations. His description is fantastic which makes you carry on reading. I recommend this book but if you do not like extreme poverty in great detail this is not for you.
I ordered this book which was described as 'used but in very good condition' but I was very disappointed as it arrived with about 40 stickers in it and it was scrawled in dreadful writing on nearly every page. Amazon refunded my money when I complained but I had to order another copy as the defacing was too bad to put into my Book Club.
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on 16 March 2013
Some people pay good money to listen to Leonard Cohen or Pink Floyd to get depressed. This is the literary equivalent.
Of course it's only a piece in Zola's literary jigsaw. Things lead up to it, and things derive from it, but it's the pits, probably.
What's really scary is that anything that happens here could have happened in Manchester or the Black Country at the same time.
Like all World's Classics, it's a good edition with good explanatory material; nice paper, nice binding and very good value.
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on 17 October 2011
Very disappointed with this translation - in fact I'd go as far as to say that the translation does not do this book any favours at all. All the characters speak like they have - sort of - come out of the East End of London... Should have bought the Penguin Classic version in retro. They say you shouldn't judge a book by a cover but this one even features a brunette Gervaise!!
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