29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Truth in L'Assommoir,
This review is from: L'Assommoir (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Somehow, Émile Zola manages to create stories that bring the readers in close to the story. "L'Assommoir" is one such story, grabbing readers from the very start and holding them until the very end, uncompromising. As in his other books, the story of France is presented in the form of a complex cast of characters. This story, a surprisingly strong account of drinking and difficulties, accurately comes to describe the situations.
"L'Assommoir" may be described simply as a story about alcoholism but that would be a disservice to this book. Beyond the simple premise as described on the back cover, "L'Assommoir" deals with family troubles, social difficulties, and, indeed, the devastating affects of alcoholism. By keeping the immediate cast of characters relatively small (and hinting at future Rougon-Macquart novels in the characters of Nana and Étienne) but showing a wider world with numerous side-characters, Zola creates an entirely realistic and believable world, displaying the poorer side of Paris. Zola's steadfast descriptions of a difficult and seedy world are grim and startling. The characters' lives are so full of difficulties and pain (following, of course, a long period of good times) that it's impossible not to find yourself immersed in the story.
"L'Assommoir" aims to follow Zola's own "realism" style. There's a vulgarity factor to "L'Assommoir", just as there is one to Zola's other Rougon-Macquart novels (for those coming from others). The realism leads to accuracy in fights, in good times and in bad. Situations breathe; Zola builds scenes so utterly true that it's impossible not to scratch your head, wondering who let him record all of these things. The hypocrisy displayed, the problems presented - all come together to show the truth of the times and of life. It's a difficult, heavy novel, but brilliant, important and a necessary read.
The Oxford World's Classic edition (the one I read) is perfect - the writing (translation and Zola's own genius) is fresh and modern; the extras in the back of the book are interesting, useful and at times offer new bits of information. It's a convenient, helpful edition that's a pure pleasure to read. The vulgarities may lack the punch that they held when first published, but the truth behind their use should still suffice in shocking many readers. "L'Assommoir" is a brilliant and important novel, a wonderful starting point for Zola, and an equally great jumping off point for further Zola books.