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La Curée (1984)

La Curée (1984)

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3.82 of 5 Votes: 1
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2253003662 (ISBN13: 9782253003663)
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About book La Curée (1984)

This is the first classic novel I've delved into for about three months. As much as I like newer novels, this was like a breath of fresh air. This was a better novel than "His Excellency Eugene Rougon" and about as good or better than "The Fortune of the Rougons."This paragraph is for a minor sketch of the plot, I don't think I'm giving away anything major, but skip this if you don't want to know anything going in. This is the story of Aristide Rougon (changes his last name to Saccard), his second wife Renee and his son Maxime. Aristide moves to Paris with an unquenchable greed for money, but needs starting cash so he marries Renee who was raped, nearly disowned by her father and pretends to have been the rapist so he can patch up her relationship with her father and get a large dowry. He makes a fortune buying up houses he know will be torn down to make way for new roads through the city by inflating their value as much as he can before he unloads them. Later he sets up a bank and uses the cash for other speculations. Maxime, Aristide's son by his first wife returns home from school and Renee sets about turning him into a dandy. "What Maxime adored was living amid the women’s skirts, finery, and rice powder." Before long Renee is eyeing Maxime for herself, but will she dare commit such a sin?Zola gives us a tour of the debauchery which was the Second French Empire. His attention to detail is quite amazing, and he engages in lengthy descriptions of opulence. At times there's a downright pagan feel to Aristide's house. There's satyrs and cupids all around and a garden of exotic, poisonous plants and smells that inspire lust. The wealth is obscene. Zola describes a room where, "all of these things sweated and dripped with gold."Zola isn't afraid to touch on free love, prostitution, even hints of child molestation. But what enables this is the unquenchable greed for money. Zola describes the country itself, "A handful of rogues had just stolen a throne, and what they needed now was a reign of adventures, of shady deals, of consciences sold and women bought, of mad and all-consuming revelry. In a city from which the blood of December had only just been washed away there grew—timidly at first—a rage for pleasure that would ultimately land the country in the padded cell reserved for debauched and dishonored nations."Even the Emperor himself is a sensualist. When he sees Renee for the first time he tells his general, “Now there, general, is a flower worth picking, a mysterious pink carnation [...]” To which the general replied in a more brutal tone, “Sire, that carnation there would look damned good in our buttonholes!” Of Aristide's brother Eugene, a man respected in the legislature Zola says playfully, "Eugene Rougon, the illustrious politician, recognizing that those bare breasts were even more eloquent than his speeches in the Chamber and better at convincing skeptics and making people savor the charms of the reign, went over and complimented his sister-in-law on her bold stroke in dropping her neckline yet another inch— a happy inspiration, he called it."At the beginning of the novel Renee says she is tired of this sensualist life. It's hollow and meaningless. Unfortunately she's the only character able to see this, and as is the case in Zola's other novels, the individual is powerless against their environment.Renee watches the flirtatious prostitutes with much interest, "She could almost feel the heat of all the footsteps of all those men and women rising from the cooling sidewalk. The shame that had loitered there—the momentary lusts, the whispered offers, the one-night nuptials paid for in advance—evaporated, hovering in the air like a heavy mist roiled by the morning breezes. Leaning out over the darkness, she breathed in this shivering silence, this bedroom scent, as an encouragement that came to her from below, an assurance that her shame was shared and accepted by a complicit city."Zola has the desires of characters' sexuality mirrored in the scenery, forbidden, exotic sin. Here's an example of Zola's lavish descriptions of sexualized nature, "Beside them, the twisted, red-stained leaves of begonia and the spiky white leaves of caladium created a vague medley of hues ranging from the pallor of death to the color of a bruise, puzzling the lovers, who at times thought they could make out round shapes like hips and knees pressed hard against the earth by the brutality of sanguinary caresses. And the banana trees, bending under the weight of their fruit, spoke to them of the rich fertility of the soil, while the Abyssinian euphorbia, whose tapering stems—prickly, misshapen, and covered with horrid excrescences they glimpsed through the darkness—oozed sap, as if their procreative exuberance could not be contained." This is a book of incredibly slimy people, engaged in all sorts of intrigue, sex, money, greed, corruption. And those most likely to be taken advantage of are those they are closest to. Renee is the only character we can sympathize with, even though she is full of faults herself. In conclusion, this is another dark novel from Zola, focused on the sexual debauchery and greed of the upper classes. There’s a lot of themes here. Money conquers all, love and sex are transitory, but money is what really makes the world go round. Renee’s problem is she wants something more than mere sex and money, something her society doesn’t offer. The world the characters inhabit is one where wealth is made by speculation, fortunes are won and lost quickly, contributing to the “high times.” Virtues of hard work – real hard work are downplayed and there’s an utter loss of morality among the newly rich. I liked the book a lot, but I have to admit I was bored when there was a focus on “non-essential” characters. The triangle of the story is Aristide, Renee and Maxime and when Zola went off on tangents about other characters which I could tell half though the book weren’t pertinent on the overall story I got bored. Zola also engages in very detailed, lavish description that seems far overdone at times, but he has a point to make about the society he is describing, like a cake that is too rich to eat.

As Cyprus trembles on the brink of financial disaster (or so we're told) I find myself reflecting on how we got here, how in 2008 the bottom fell out of the housing bubbles all over the world. The financial problems that followed have been disastrous for millions of people, and frequently the "fix" proposed has been all wrong, if we are to believe Paul Krugman, Nobel laureat for economics.This is not the first financial collapse, of course. My parents lived through the Great Depression and were deeply marked by it But there was another one before that in 1873, that was even worse. For anyone who'd like to know how we got in our current situation, a novel written by Emile Zola about the 1873 bubble and crash is a great and informative read.The book is called The Kill (La Curée in French, both terms referring to the frenzy that comes at the end of a hunt.) I read it in the summer of 2007 while researching my book The Walkable City: From Haussmann’s Boulevards to Jane Jacobs’ Streets and Beyond. At the time I was struck by how much Aristide Saccard, the developer at the heart of the novel, resembled people involved in cities today.According to Zola’s story, Saccard made a fortune in the Haussmannian re-building of Paris in the 1860s and early 1870s. How like the people behind development all over North America and Europe, buliding condos and houses and office buildings everywhere, I thought when I first read itBut I didn't realize how apt the comparison was until the fall of 2008 when Scott Reynolds Nelson's “The Real Great Depression” was ublished in The Chronicle Review. When the bubble burst the depression which followed the 1873 Crash lasted four years in North America and seven years in Europe, he says.Real estate speculation, shaky financial arrangements, unsecured loans and most of all greed were behind that crash. “Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the (Paris, Berlin and Vienna) today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.” (The photo was taken during the construction of the Opera Garnier in 1866.)Zola's novel, the second in his multiple volume history of the Rougon-Macquart family, is full of iintrigue and sex as well as real estate--in fact it is so steamy that it was censored in France after its publication, and wasn't translated into English for nearly 50 years because it was considered just too hot.A great read! And I can't think of a recent novel that tells as much about our times as this does about its.

Do You like book La Curée (1984)?

I read "The Kill" ("La Curee") about three years ago and liked it so much as to have written a long review of it in my Asia Sentinel (an online magazine) blog. I’ve dug out that review and have shortened it a bit for sharing here at Goodreads. "The Kill" ("La Curee") is the second in Emile Zola’s twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart saga, which is a fictional historical account of a family under France’s Second Empire, a semi-despotic, semi-parliamentary kleptocracy of Louis Bonaparte Napoleon III. This novel aroused my interest in the author Emile Zola, whom, after deeper research into his life and works, I’ve come to like and respect.As suggested by the title of the novel, the hunting spoils (the French term is “la curee”) are rewards for the hounds for killing the quarry. In allegorical interpretation, spoils of economic development are rewards for those callous enough to prey on the weak and vulnerable. This is the main theme of the novel.The story of "The Kill" is set in Paris during the reign of the Second Empire, a city that was undergoing dramatic transformations highlighted by greed, graft and conspicuous consumption. The background setting features massive public works which include demolition of broad swaths of old Paris for the construction of spacious boulevards and widespread expansion of railroads. The social backdrop tells of how the middle-class rushes to embrace new-found gold-digging opportunities and how the government wades knee-deep in corruption and cronyism.“From the very first days Aristide Saccard sensed the approach of this rising tide of speculation, whose spume would one day cover all of Paris. He followed its progress closely. He found himself smack in the middle of the torrential downpour of gold raining down on the city’s roofs. In his incessant turns around city hall, he had caught wind of the vast project to transform Paris, of the plans for demolition, of the new streets and hastily planned neighborhoods, and of the massive wheeling and dealing in land and buildings that had ignited a clash of interests across the capital and set off an unbridled pursuit of luxury.....”Against this background, the main story line centers on Aristide Saccard’s rapacious graft at the government office and his coldhearted exploitation of his beautiful but soulless wife Renee, and simultaneously threads through a materially decadent and morally depraved period of her life, which culminates in her engagement in incest with her step-son Maxime. The story ends with an abrupt and cruel shattering of Renee’s self-indulgent delusions, her heartbreak caused by her discovery of her husband’s and Maxime’s heartless betrayal of her. Her tragic end has a dark symbolic ring to it.
—Alice Poon

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It is one of the earliest novels in the cycle, but it definitely shows the glimpses of author's talent and Zola's firm social stand. The novel is twofold - it is a story of a young woman's social and emotional unraveling and the picture of financial and moral corruption of the Parisian upper middle bourgeoisie. Zola is brave and audacious even by modern standards - he tackles issues of moral dissipation of the humongous size, sexual near incestual relationship (stepmother and stepson), homosexuality, and even androgyny. His scathing criticism interestingly, but not disruptively, mingles with sensual passages of sexual seduction and pages full of high tension and edginess. Of course, some descriptive passages are beautiful but excessive and slightly tiring, but they do convey the verve of city life, urban existence, and the sense of indulgence. Zola's naturalistic approach allows to chronicle the moral decomposition of the society, and the brunt of this scathing criticism is on Aristide Rougon (Saccard) who can pawn everything, including his wife's trousseau and her reputation. Another example of the same moral downfall is Sidonie Rougon, who is more than happy to condone the sexual affairs of her sister-in-law if they guarantee her extra profit. Renee, whose unraveling becomes more and more obvious by the end of the novel, and who dies young, is a sympathetic victim despite her numerous faults. She is the one who understands her shortcomings and feels betrayed and misplaced while others indulge themselves in dissipation and debauchery. Zola's neutral and naturalistic style makes it hard for some readers to relate to the novel emotionally, especially for those who like to form an emotional bond (obviously one-sided) with characters, but it also allows to chronicle the everyday life with the disaffection and fairness of a historian.

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