The trouble with polyreading is that when I jump around from book to book, it takes me forever to finish anything -- and then I have a pile of books to review! I finally finished another book by Emile Zola -- A Love Episode, the eighth book in his Rougon-Macquart series. I know it's the very end of the month, but I definitely wanted to finish this for the Zoladdiction readalong hosted by Fanda.
It's the story of Helene Grandjean, a young widow who is about thirty in the start of the novel. After the death of her husband, Helene and her young daughter Jeanne move to Passy (which is now part of the 16th Arrondissment of Paris, on the northwest side of the city). In the beginning of the novel, the sickly Jeanne has a life-threatening seizure, and the frantic Helene bangs on the door of her neighbor who is also her new landlord. Luckily, her new landlord is a physician, the handsome Dr. Deberle. He attends Jeanne and pulls her through the crisis, sitting by her bedside for hours with her mother.
During Jeanne's recovery, Helene and her daughter are often invited to the home of the Deberles and to spend time in their beautiful garden. Helene also spends time with some of the poor parishioners in the area, including a crafty old woman called Madame Fetu, who is also attended by Dr. Deberle. Helene and the doctor spend several days together after Mme Fetu falls ill, and they begin to form a bond.
|Portrait of Emile Zola by Felix Vallotton
This becomes awkward as Helene is also friendly with Deberle's wife, the kind if somewhat flighty socialite Juliette. Helene struggles with her growing feelings for Deberle, and meanwhile her friend Abbe Jouve, the priest, is pressuring her to marry his brother, the faithful and patient Monsieur Rambaud. Meanwhile, her daughter Jeanne can sense something is happening between her mother and the doctor.
It's a good story, though not my favorite of the series. It's one of Zola's slower novels, and it's definitely a domestic drama. There are some lighter moments that I really enjoyed, especially with Helene's servant Rosalie, and her fiance, Zephyrin, who provide most of the comic relief of the novel. They were actually my favorite characters and I wish Zola had written more about them.
A Love Episode is also a love letter to Paris. Helene spends a lot of time gazing at the view of the Paris from her apartment -- apparently she could see all of Paris, including the Seine, Les Invalides, and the Pantheon. It must have been a spectacular view, especially at night:
In the dormant sea of blackness before them, there was a glimmer of light. It was below them, somewhere in the abyss, in a place they could not precisely identify. And one after the other the different lights started winking. They came to life at night with a sudden start, all at once, and remained there glittering like stars. It seemed as though there was a new rising of heavenly bodies on the surface of a dark lake. Soon there was a double row of them making a pattern which led from the Trocadero towards Paris in little leaps of light. Then other lines of luminous dots cut into that line, you could make out curves, a whole constellation that was getting larger, strange and magnificent.
A Love Episode is the twelfth book I've completed in the Rougon-Macquart series -- so far I've read fourteen of his works altogether (the other two are Therese Raquin and The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories.) Compared to the rest of the series, it's pretty good, though not quite up to the quality of Germinal, L'Assommoir, or La Bete Humaine. However, I'd say it's definitely a good introduction to his work if you're looking for something shorter and slightly less intense.
And now for the giveaway! A couple of years ago, the nice people at Oxford World's Classics starting sending me copies of some of their new releases, mostly Zola (and thanks to Simon at Stuck in a Book for passing my name along.) Somehow I received two copies of A Love Story and so I'm going to share my good fortune and give away my extra copy! All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me why you want to read this book. The winner will be chosen in a completely unscientific manner -- I'm going to pick my favorite response, so be creative!
Guidelines for the drawing are as follows:
- Winner must live in the United States or Europe (due to postage costs)
- If your blog doesn't have an email link so I contact you, include an email in your comment
- The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Western Europe Time Zone (GMT +1) on Monday, May 7.