I’ve read four books by Émile Zola in my life. All have at some point made me angry, upset or depressed for days. All have been sublime.
I do worry though that is in part due to the fact I have so far stuck to his ‘greatest hits’ books, the ones that every classics publisher has an edition of, the ones that are always on every bookshop shelf. I wonder how honest I am when I say, ‘I love Zola’ when really, I only know his best works and haven’t read one of them in years. (I did try a re-read of one of them last year but picked a bad translation and abandoned it.)
Most of his novels are part of Les Rougon-Macquart, a twenty novel cycle tracking families and their friends, lovers and community across almost twenty years and technically all the novels stand alone. You can dip in and out and choose any book that strikes your fancy. I’ve read three of the cycle but I’ve always wondered whether by reading books 7, 9 and 13 of this bigger narrative I have perhaps missed something…
As regular readers know I never commit to solely reading one author or theme for a whole month but I reckon I can commit to reading the first two, possibly three, books of the series in April. I’ve never read any of the first three books and know very little about them (I am resisting the urge to google them to within a inch of their pages), so it feels a little bit like an adventure. I don’t know whether to expect writing that is a bit more uneven, am looking forward to seeing places and people I might know from later books and I can see there’s going to be the fun of deciding which translations fit me best as a reader. I love this kind of reading journey and I’m getting a bookgeeky thrill at the idea of starting again, properly, from Book 1.
Perhaps I’m a little OCD but I really do think I’ll get more out of the Zola experience this time round. :)
On a side note: I was planning on starting Les Misérables next week as my thinking was Swann’s Way followed by Les Misérables wasn’t too overwhelming as a pairing but Proust, Hugo and then Zola all within the space of three months is probably too rich a diet for me as a reader. It’d also be a bit overwhelming for any regular readers who like my usual eclectic mix of subjects and themes. So, to keep such good things in moderation, I am going to bump Hugo’s masterpiece of redemption, rioting and sightseeing in the Parisian sewers to later in the year.