In celebration of Emile Zola

zoladdiction2019It’s the start of #ZolaAddiction2019, a month long celebration of the master of literature who put French contemporary society under the spotlight. That might sound rather dull and ‘worthy’ but in fact Emile Zola’s novels contain a high level of sensationalism. It’s impossible to read many of his novels without encountering rather a lot of sex and violence.

To mark the occasion I thought I’d give you a peek at my stack of Zola novels. They are all part of his Rougon-Macquart cycle of twenty novels  which features two branches of a family over five generations. One branch are the respectable (ie legitimate) Rougons; the other are disreputable (illegitimate) Macquarts. Through them Zola traces the “environmental” influences of violence, alcohol, and prostitution which became more prevalent during the second wave of the Industrial Revolution.

My first encounter with Monsieur Zola came via Germinal: a stunningly powerful novel about industrial strife in the mining towns of northern France. I’ve read five more of his novels and haven’t yet been disappointed. But Germinal still remains my favourite.

These are the titles I’ve read so far.

Zola novels read


I have another six titles in the cycle waiting to be read.

Zola novels to read

Nana is probably the best known among these titles. It tells the story of Nana Coupeau’s rise from streetwalker to high-class prostitute. Like many of the other titles in this series, it was an instant hit with readers.  In 1879, Le Voltaire, the French newspaper,  launched a gigantic advertising campaign to highlight its forthcoming publication of the story in instalments. It raised the curiosity of the reading public to a fever pitch. When the novel was published in book form the following year,  the first edition of 55,000 copies was sold out in one day.

I try to buy Oxford World Classics editions, published by Oxford University Press, wherever possible. Not only are the covers of the most recent editions, ultra pleasing on the eye but they come with excellent introductions. Sadly not all of the 20 novels are available in these editions. I think in fact there are only four other titles from the OUP so I’m going to have to ration my reading and hope, by the time I get through this half dozen, the powers that be at the OUP will have pulled their fingers out and published some more….

#Zolaaddiction2019 is hosted by FandaClassicLit blog.


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 1, 2019, in Bookends, French authors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I’ve been intrigued by Zola, but I have no idea where to start and, since I hate leaving things unfinished, where to end!

    • Well, although these are written as a cycle (not a series) with the books united by the theme of exploring life in France during a particular period, they can be read independently. So just pick one from the big hitters of Germinal, The Human Beast, Nana, L’Assommoir

  2. I prefer the OWC covers and introductions. I’m reading The Belly of Paris this year, which probably has the best cover of the lot in my opinion, but then the whole book reads like a still life with fruit and veg so far!!

  3. Enjoy! I plan to reread all of Zola, but I have a few more classics to finish off my 1st list of 50 to launch into this new adventure

  4. I have only read one Zola: Nana. It was many years ago but I still remember it. Perhaps I should give Germinal a try. By the way, I updated my WordPress commenting profile. Hopefully you can get to my blog from there?

  5. Thanks for that Tony – I did a check yesterday but didn’t see all 20 listed. I shall have another look, more closely this time. If I draw a blank though I shall certainly take you up on your kind offer

  6. I definitely have The Ladies’ Paradise somewhere – but will I get time to read it????:s

  7. I love OWC covers, too, but don’t think I’ve actually bought any. I’ve only read one Zola — The Ladies Paradise, but lost my copy while travelling in China back in 2010 so never quite got to finish it. Think I was about 50 pages from the end 🙄

    I’d quite like to give him another go. Is there a book you’d recommend starting with?

    • Oh what a shame, so near the end and you have no idea how the story is resolved…. A recommendation? I’d say either Germinal or L’Assommoir. They can be read without knowing the whole story of the families…. Or for something a bit lighter The Ladies Paradise

  8. I LOVE OWC covers and am so pleased to have found someone else who shares my fondness for them. When I was at uni, I used to go into Blackwell’s and just stare at the entire “classic fiction” section (which is primarily stocked, at least in the Oxford branch, with OWC editions). It was weirdly soothing.

  9. The Oxford World Classics covers are really lovely. I’ve not read Zola yet but I think I inherited Dad’s battered copy of Germinal. May have to dig that out this month and see how addictive he is!

    • I find it hard to read Germinal and not end up angry at the way the miners are treated and the extent of their poverty… living in a mining area and having coal miners for grandparents/uncles brought it home even more

  10. Thank you, I’ve not heard of this classic author before.

    • If you fancy giving him a go, the Ladies Paradise is quite interesting – not as intense as some of the others. It’s about the birth of the department store concept in Paris

  11. I love Zola so I think you are in for a treat:)

  12. When I last checked, early this year, Oxford World Classics has published all but one of the series. Unfortunately I wasn’t enamoured with the one I read (you probably know I enjoy books with challenging narrative structures & Zola’s straight line approach didn’t do it for me). If you’re really keen I’ll dig up all the ISBN’s for you.

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