Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 4, 2014

The Zola Project … and other challenges!

Zola books
Now that my project to read La Comedie Humaine is out of the way, I’m embarking on a new one: I’m reading Émile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart Cycle.

According to Wikipedia, Zola was inspired by Balzac’s magnum opus, and decided to write his own cycle – though his intention was not to depict an entire society, but rather just one family, and its offshoots.   It is, by all accounts, a magnificent panorama of the Second French Empire, and an example of French naturalism.

It’s going to take me a while, because of course I’m going to read other things as well in between.  (Fear not, this blog will always be first and foremost devoted to Australian literature!)  I’ve already read Germinal (my first Zola) and The Ladies’ Paradise, but my intention is to read the rest of the cycle in Zola’s recommended order.  I started with The Fortune of the Rougons, and His Excellency Eugene Rougon, and it was the awfulness of reading the latter on the Kindle that made me seek out better translations in hard copy.  I already had all the Brian Nelson translations in the Oxford Classics series, but I was delighted when Oxford offered to send me their remaining translations – which you can see in the picture.   (They’ve also sent me Therese Racquin which is listed among 1001 Books To Read Before I Die, so I can’t wait to get to that one as well.

So I now have

  • Nana, translated by Douglas Parmee
  • The Masterpiece, translated by Thomas Walton
  • L’Assommoir, translated by Margaret Mauldon
  • and translated by Brian Nelson (from Monash University here in Melbourne)
  • The Kill (my next read)
  • The Belly of Paris
  • Pot Luck

They look so nice, all lined up on the shelf, I hope that Oxford hurries up and produces a new translation of the remaining ones soon!

My other French task arrived in the mail this week too.  Emma from Book Around the Corner chose a book in French for me to read this year for my Humbook.  It’s called La Première Gorgée de Bière et Autres Plaisirs Minuscules  – which means The First Sip of Beer and Other Small Pleasures, but as you can see from the picture, I’m brushing up my French verbs so that I can read more than just the title!

My other little challenge is an intriguing new book from Fremantle Press.  It’s called The Weaver Fish, it’s by Robert Edeson, and this is the blurb:

The Weaver Fish won the 2012 T.A.G. Hungerford Award from one of the strongest fields in the award’s history. Using real mathematics and science to create a fantastical world, Edeson’s fiction is about the underlying subjectivity of accepted ‘facts’. It is also an adventure novel that challenges readers to follow their obsessions. Edeson is a medical doctor and a polymath. The reading material on his bedside table is a shrine to the world’s great mathematicians.

What fun!  Some people complain about too many books on the TBR, but you’ll never hear me do that!


  1. It makes for a nice little collection doesn’t it (the Zola). Lucky you – all you want now is a desert island experience – or perhaps a world cruise? I will follow with interest


    • That’s a thought, Tom! Is there a cruise company that operates on the waterways of France that would like to offer me a berth (and a first-class flight from Oz as well, of course) in exchange for enthusiastic blog posts about Zola written from the beauty spots of France?

      Liked by 1 person

      • wifi could be a problem . . . !


  2. Great challenge Lisa I wish I had the dedication to do these longer book cycles


    • Nooo, Stu, don’t you change what you’re doing! BTW I have my Pushkin Press book ready for later this month, it’s Stefan Sweig’s Amok.


      • Oh that’s good I’ve that one as one I’m reading on my kindle Lisa


  3. I’d love to join you in reading these, but I probably need to save them for a time when I’m more likely to have less distractions. I asked for the series for Christmas, but noone wanted to buy me more books as they thought I had enough already! :-(

    Therese Raquin is one of my favourite books – enjoy!


    • Oh no! You *asked* for books and no one gave you any? That is awful! I suggest you take your revenge by giving them purple socks or dirge-brown hankies for the next hundred Christmases or so….


  4. I love Therese Raquin. I rate it above many of the R-M books. It opens with such soothing idylls and then . . . The last part is especially intense.


    • Hmm, I’m starting to get Therese Raquin vibes… I may not be able to discipline myself to finish the cycle first…


      • Be sneaky, lol. You can always justify moving it up since it was written earlier.


  5. I liked Therese Raquin a lot.
    I hope it won’t be a chore to read the Delerm. I think your French is good enough for it. Anyway, it exists in English.
    Thanks for the link.


    • It’s not going to be a chore, it’s a pleasant stimulus to brush up my favourite language:) One of the new texts I’ve got is a collection of short stories and I’m already reading a simple Zola, the one about the schoolboys who rebel. I’m loving it!


  6. I’d so love to join you in this project, it’s one of my own goals. Of course pretty much everything else is pushed aside by my 1001 project. And I know that I’d never ever keep up. The Weaver Fish sounds intriguing too- I have a subspecialty interest in fiction written by doctors.


  7. This is so wonderful, Lisa! Hope you enjoy reading Zola’s works. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on them. Also, so wonderful to know that you got Philippe Delerm’s book. I can’t wait to read your review of it. Happy reading!


  8. I read La Bete Humaine a few years ago. It is brilliant! Not for the faint hearted though, it contains a lot of sex and violence, but it is riveting! Also enjoyed Therese Raquin. Such a good plot which Zola works out very believably.


    • Hello Gill, welcome:)
      Yes, I’ve heard that about La Bete Humaine, it will make a most interesting contrast with The Dream, I am sure!


      • Hello, Gill.

        LOL, Lisa, yes, La Bete Humaine definitely contrasts with The Dream. I agree with Gill about Therese Raquin. You must try to find time to read it when you’re finished with the R-M series. I like it better than all of the R-M books except for Germinal and L’Assommoir.


        • Oh, do you think I should leave it till I’ve finished the whole cycle? I was thinking of reading it while I’m waiting for the new Oxford World Classics translation of The Conquest of Plassans to arrive.


  9. Yes, by all means, go ahead and read it! It doesn’t play into the R-M group at all. I didn’t realize you were waiting on a new translation and thought you just wanted to read straight through the R-M books. That’s the only reason I mentioned when you finish. (Warning-the last half or third is not bedtime reading.)


    • Ooh, that sounds most intriguing…


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: