Top critical review
Build it and he will come
2 September 2018
This novel has an unusual structure and it dominates the readers appreciation. The young lovers (aged 17 and 13) feature in the opening chapter and return for a very well-written and moving denouement. In between we are introduced to the Rougon/ Macquart clan as we step back in history.
This central section reads like a cross between a detailed obituary column and an episode of "Who do you think you are?". The Family Tree is an essential. Eventually, it carries us into the present day ie) 1852, and the bloody events in the Var region which transform the fortunes of the Rougon family.
The satire on the reactionary, pro-Louis Napoleon supporters seems gentle to the modern reader. Zola spends much time laying the foundations of hereditary and environment which he will use as building blocks for the 20-novel Rougon series.
All too often, the book felt like such a foundation rather than having any significant stand-alone merit. It was an enjoyable read but I was always more conscious of the structure rather than the content.