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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Nana by Emile Zola


Book Review
Nana
 by Emile Zola
p. 1880
Penguin Classics edition

  Interesting fact about Nana is that it was the first-ish French novel to be promoted through the use of "modern" techniques of mass market advertising.  And it worked: Nana sold 55,000 copies in the first day of release.  That's... a lot of books.

  Nana is part of Zola's 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series.  This was his attempt to to tell "The natural and social history of a family during the second empire."   The character, Nana has a small part in  an earlier volume of Les Rougon-Macquart, L'Assommoir.

 L'Assommoir ends just as Nana begins her life on the streets, when Nana the novel picks up.  The plot of Nana is essentially the rise and fall and rise and death of a famous prostitute, but the fun is the details.  Specifically, the large crowd intensive set peaces, which read like Zola had found inspiration in the locales of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  It's hard not to read the epic horse racing scene in the middle of Nana and not recall the similarly epic steeplechase scene in Anna Karenina.  Novels are beginning to get majestic by the mid to late Victorian period, and I know from reading authors like Don Delillo and Pynchon that the epic set piece remains a favorite of Novelists down to the present day.

 Other then the crowd scenes, Nana is a nasty bit of work.  She literally ruins every man that she touches and lives a life of senseless waste and debauchery.  If she came back today she would no doubt be doing porn- that's the vibe of Nana.  Not really a fan, and 450 plus pages, it's not a particularly easy or fast read.  I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you've read Anna Karenina and remember the steeplechase scene in that book.

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