At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I honestly believe this may be the most depressing novel I have ever read. It has been a long time since I've (if I've ever) so excessively cringed, tensed up, sighed from such unadulterated frustration, and chewed the insides of my mouth from stress while reading about imaginary people. Last time I can remember my eyes popping out of my head anywhere near as cartoonishly from a fiction as Zola has managed here would probably be the first time I watched Requiem for a Dream, specifically, ya know, that sequence. This is worse than that. And disturbingly realistic. If you have ever watched anyone deteriorate from alcoholism, this book will eat you. It will eat you good.
That's pretty much all I can say for now, because I'm still too busy grinding my teeth to continue. Jesus. Anyway, I guess I should also mention that it's beautifully grotesque, exactingly plotted and paced, and Zola's observations on human behavior, emotions, and rationalizations for cruelty and excess are almost surgical. Ironically, it's gripping and heart-wrenching enough that it may make you want a drink.
I seem to remember a lot of goodreaders dissing on it, but I do look forward to reading Nana as soon as I can find a copy. The way in which Zola pre-developed her character is strikingly in-tune with modern scientific/psychological theories of childhood experiences which lead to sociopathology; the abuse, genetic predisposition, brain damage, poverty, trauma, lack of supervision, insubstantial education, and generally chaotic home-life are present, creating, as they say, "the perfect storm." I will seek that novel out once my wounds heal at least to the point of being crusty scabs which only occasionally rip open and drip. Dammit, Zola, why are you so terribly wonderful and wonderfully terrible?
The last lines are similar to a row of beautiful, gleaming daggers. I sniffled a bit. That rarely happens for me with fiction, but Zola got me. Bastard.