Thursday, November 11, 2010

Literary Blog Hop-Most Difficult Literary Work You've Read

Literary Blog Hop
The girls over at The Blue Bookcase came up with this fantastic new blog hop for blogs that primarily read and review literary books or discuss literary things.  If you would like to participate or visit other blogs on the hop, check them out at The Blue Bookcase!

The question this week comes from Readerbuzz (Salut, Debbie Nance, j'aime ta question!):
What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read?  What made it so difficult?

Great question, and what an easy one for me to answer!  When I first read the question, I was like, "hmmmm....I don't know....."  And then it hit me. 

Zola.  Emile Zola.

I took a Zola class last semester.  We read two of his books (en francais, of course): Le ventre de Paris (in English it's The Belly of Paris, or sometimes it's translated something like The Fat and the Skinny, lol), and L'Assommoir (which I think is usually just translated with the same title..).  Those were BY FAR the hardest books I've ever read.

It could be because they were in French, but I beg to differ.  I've been reading French literature for a long time now.  It could possibly have been his writing style + the French.  You see, Zola is what you might call a "naturalist".  Or at least an old fashioned naturalist who thought that personality traits were passed on from a woman's first lover to all her future kids, no matter if he was their father or not.  And other strange stuff which I don't feel like getting into. 

Zola also loved to describe things.  Vividly.  At first, this is really nice.  But there are only so many times you can read about all the different colors of the flowers and meats and people and vegetables in the market, only so many times you can tolerate the smells of the cheese shops and meat markets, only so many times you can stand to read about the different blood puddings and pig intestines in the meat shop.  And definitely there are only so many times that you can bare to hear about one woman's slow (and I mean S-L-O-W) descent into alcoholism.  Oh the bad choices she made.

Don't get me wrong, I really liked the books (for the most part) and will probably be reading more Zola soon (for my own pleasure, not for school).  Once I'm finally over the "Semester of Gervaise and les Quenu", I hope I can start over with Zola. 

"Hey Emile," I'd like to say.


"Can we start over?  I feel we've gotten off on the wrong foot.  I want to give this a second chance."

"Ah oui, bien sur".

And then everything will be just spiffy.

And what's really funny is that I can totally see myself someday doing a huge long dissertation on the symbolism in Zola, because you could write a book about all of it.  The color of the water near the dyeshop, the differences in skinny and fat people and how their lives are so drastically different based on their belly sizes (Zola wasn't saying that being skinny or round was bad, mind you.  It was a sort of subtle way of showing the social differences between two classes of people after the Revolution and that other Revolution and that other Revolution and...yeah, you get the point.).

What I'm trying to say is that the books were insanely a lot to take in in just one semester.  I went a little crazy because of them and all the stuff inside of them.  There is so much to each of them and I'd like to spend more time disecting them both.  If you want to read Zola, you have to be prepared to take your time and possibly pull out your hair every once in a while.  Because for real, Gervaise sometimes just needs to grow up.

And that was my super long rant about Emile Zola.  Wow.  I feel like a heavy weight that I've been carrying on my shoulders since last semester has finally lifted. 


  1. Very interesting post-I bought last week the Oxford Classic edition (in trans.) of The Belly of Paris at an 80 percent off sale-I read Nana a few months ago and really liked it-

  2. Nice! The grad student in my class got to read Nana along with the other two, and she would have to summarize what she'd read for each class. It seemed like a really interesting book. Nana was quite the character! She actually is a little girl in L'Assommoir, and her future self is totally visible in little girl Nana! I think my next attempt at Zola will either be Nana or Germinal (which is my advisor's all-time favorite Zola novel).

  3. naturalism sounds WIERD. Haha, maybe in a cool way.

  4. I'm jealous of the fact that you can read in French! This author does sound challenging though.

  5. I've never read any Zola and to be honest, I would probably get frustrated with all of the descriptions but I'd really like to check some of his work out. Maybe I'll start with some short stories...

  6. I've never read any Zola and definitely not in French! It sounds interesting although difficult. Maybe sometime when I'm up for a challenge I'll try it (in English!!)

  7. Zola is one of my new favorite authors, but then I didn't try to read him in French! Theresa Raquin was amazing, and I read The Ladies' Paradise earlier this year and liked that a lot, too. The Belly of Paris will be next, but who knows how I would have reacted if I'd read them in French...

  8. If you do go back to Zola some day, I recommend Germinal. That book really got to me.

  9. I ve only read couple of zola's never really connected with him ,all the best stu

  10. Very interesting response. I haven't read any Zola but I would love to. And it's soo cool that you can read it in French. Seriously, the descriptions might get on my nerves.

  11. Enjoyed Zola a few years ago (In my french author phase)but have not read for a while, enjoyed your write up

  12. I completely agree with you, Kelly. Zola was intense, so many details, and so many french words for different types of food and vegetation that aren't even in pocket dictionaries. Maybe someday I will go back to him as well. Maybe you and I could do a 'Zola Book Club' so we have each other's support?
    Take care, Heather

  13. Great essay! Like you, I often end up liking a book even though I may struggle with it. A lot.

    It has been very interesting to read everyone's answers to this fun question. My pick was Finnegans Wake.

    Rose City Reader

  14. I wish I could read Zola in French! You really capture the feel of his prose. I loved Nana when I read it back in grad school, but haven't read Zola since then, and certainly never in French!