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The Works of Emile Zola by Émile Zola
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The Works of Emile Zola

by Émile Zola

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Following are individual reviews of the novels contained in this compilation.

THE BELLY OF PARIS (May 2011) ***
Also translated as [The Fat and the Thin], in French [Le Ventre de Paris] is the third novel of the Rougon-Marquart series.

This book provides a great detailed view of activities around Les Halles, the market place of steel and glass built in Paris in the 19th century (I think). But I was very disappoinnted on this novel itself. The premise is compelling but Zola's attempt to mimic his Impressionistic painter friends via his descriptions of the food markets in Paris becomes rather tedious.

The story itself is interesting.The principal character Florent Quenu finds himself in the middle of a demonstration agains the government, encounters a girl who has been killed in the fighting and gets his hands bloodied after touching her dead body. When he is discovered by soldiers he is accused of insurrenction, found guilty and sent to Devil's island as punishment. A few years later he manages to escape and returns to Paris where he moves in with his brother and wife. He acquires a position with the government as inspector of the market (in Les Halles) but due to jealousy of many women, including his sister in law, he is accused to the police (as an escaped prisoner). In the end, the police comes to capture him but none of the people that he had befriended in the markets came to his aid or even acknowledges him as he is taken away. He is sent back to the island.

However, the narrative is plastered throughout with Zola's colorful descriptions of the multitudes of foods sold in the markets. They are interesting at the beginning of the novel when Zola speaks of "red bouquets of carrots, white bouquets of turnips, and the overflowing greenery of peas and cabbages." But with the repetitious detailing of food throughout the novel, one feels nauseated when one reads phrases such as "dishes containing preserved Strasbourg tongues, enclosed in bladders colored a bright red and varnished so that they looked quite sanguineous besides the pale sausages and trotters; then there wre black-puddings coiled like harmless snakes, healthy looking chitterlings piled up two by two;..." I was at the point of turning into a vegetarian.

One thing is sure. The reader becomes acquainted with the marketing and perparation of food eaten in mid-19th century Paris, an invaluable lesson that helps one appreciate that people at that time were also living relatively well.
  xieouyang | May 27, 2011 |
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