Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > L'Assommoir (The Dram Shop)

L'Assommoir (The Dram Shop) by Émile Zola
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May 23, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature

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.
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Comments (showing 1-49 of 49) (49 new)

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message 1: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam YES! Glad you're reading this... maybe glad's the wrong word. Have fun?

message 2: by Paquita Maria (last edited May 24, 2012 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez The waterfight catfight part was kinda fun...I mean, sure the two pathetic poor girls were mercilessly beating and tearing at one another over a lowlife alcoholic deadbeat stepdad piece of shit with no heart, but it was a waterfight! Fun!

message 3: by karen (new)

karen yayyyy zola!

Paquita Maria Sanchez I am text messaging back and forth with my boss about work stuff in her native French and my sloppy, decade old French right now. That's fun.

message 5: by Paquita Maria (last edited May 24, 2012 07:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez karen wrote: "yayyyy zola!"

Zolazolazola! One day I will read all of these. Not in order, though. I ain't no rich kid. Gotta take 'em as they come, LGM.

message 6: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam I just had to special order one to be printed...they suck you in

message 7: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Oh Gervaise, Gervaise. You'll never hate anyone called Gervaise again, even goatee-wielding British comedians who won't go away.

Paquita Maria Sanchez And so it went that one man managed to permanently morph the legacy of what was once a very pretty French lady name.

Paquita Maria Sanchez I had to put this down for a bit, and considered not continuing with it for a while, as it's making my brain sad. I'm going to get back into it today, though. No sissies here!

message 10: by Mike (new)

Mike Puma OK, first MJ, now you--I'm sold; a must TBR. Thanks.

Paquita Maria Sanchez My shoulders hurt and my heart is being all punchy. The last 3-ish chapters...fuck.

message 12: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls You do read the last fifty pages of this book in a state of finger-chewing stump-munching anger and fear and pain. Every time I reflect on Zola's apparent cruelty, it occurs to me none of his social realist works seem too farfetched. It is all horribly plausible. (Except maybe the mine collapse in Germinal, that was just silly). I would suggest The Kill before Nana, but I'm not the boss of you. I think.

Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, I say I will seek out Nana, but I tend to take them as I find them, which is pretty willy-nilly. Also, I agree that, gruesome as it may be, his novels (this one in particular) are not only probable, but pretty much things that are going on very much like this all over the place in this very moment. The only thing that bothered me about the novel in an "are you fucking kidding me?" sorta way was (view spoiler). That's just...not how I would've handled things. At all. Seriously, people have better sense than that most of the time, right? Well, maybe not.

message 14: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) Awesome. Why is it that when I read the first sentence of your review, I immediately thought, "I have to read this!" and now I will go pout & listen to some Smiths...

message 15: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls I think Zola is often an extremely clumsy writer, but the unflinching, floating-eyeball level of detail keeps you entranced. His characters are painfully fiendish and dumb also (even though he took all his Parisian slang in this book from someone else's novel, and wrote from the comfort of his bejewelled writing throne: truly). Some of his books, like Nana, smother you with superfluous detail on carpets, gilt-edged mirrors and furniture, it's not even funny.

Paquita Maria Sanchez I liked Zola after reading Therese Raquin, but La Bete Humaine (if you will kindly forgive the honky punctuation...I am lazy) is what seriously sold me on him. This one just sealed it. I can excuse a certain degree of clumsiness for books in translation. My French is over a decade old and was never impressive to begin with, after all. Which one is your favorite, MJ?

message 17: by MJ (last edited Jun 25, 2012 04:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Probably this one, I thought this neighbourhood, the cast of ne'er-do-wells, and Gervaise's downfall some of his best inventions, best writing. But The Kill is an immensely entertaining decadent, trashy piece akin more to Huysmans, I have a soft spot for it. Germinal was like one long, inevitable car crash that turns into a multi-story pile-up on several roads simutaneously.

Paquita Maria Sanchez (Jenn)ifer wrote: "Awesome. Why is it that when I read the first sentence of your review, I immediately thought, "I have to read this!" and now I will go pout & listen to some Smiths..."

Oh, I missed this! Read it, read it! The Smiths are way too sentimental for Zola's tone, though. I would suggest some Waits or Cohen as a loose approximation. Or, I dunno, probably some sorta goth rock. But more depressing than that.

Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, I hope to read them all by the time I drop, if only for the closure. Assuming there is closure (i.e. we're all fucked).

message 20: by MJ (last edited Jun 25, 2012 04:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Quite a lot of the series is out of print or published by small, weird presses, probably from ancient translations. But OUP are releasing The Fortune of the Rougons in a new edition soon. Hurray!

Plus I'd say early Sonic Youth or Lydia Lunch skronk-type music is more apropos.

Paquita Maria Sanchez Lydia! She has a good amount of books running about. I'd like to read them, but I am poor, and the local library "strangely" does not stock them. Soon. I do love her music in a really sick sort of way, though. I mean, she's totally overblown, but in a really awesome way. I especially want to read the book she did with Exene Cervenka.

Paquita Maria Sanchez (Only slightly related, little known fact: a lot of people called me 'Lydia' during my freshman year of high school because of my Lydia Deets blunt, black hairdo. True Life.)

message 23: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Paradoxia is a hearty psychosexual romp, apparently based on true events, though she's a mistress of BS. Quite inexpensive, I think. Her new band Big Sexy Noise bring the ruckus. Her music is extremely underrated.

message 24: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls And Lydia is an extremely cool name. I'd've chosen that as my female nickname.

Paquita Maria Sanchez I always said I would name a little lady who came outta my birth canal "Lydia." It is awful purdy, indeed.

message 26: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) a little lady who came out of my birth canal .. niiiice. We have a few Lydias in my family, strangely enough.

I tried to listen to some of this Lydia Lunch music, but for some reason my laptop hates youtube.

Paquita Maria Sanchez She's a creep in the best way. One of those post-punk mic-humping femi-nazis who smeared herself in blood and made out with Klaus-Nomi types. A pukey punk-girl with zero rules of conduct. Basically, Lydia Lunch is the epitome of what Courtney Love pretends to be.

message 28: by Simon (new) - added it

Simon Oh Lydia Oh Lydia, that encyclopiddia....

message 29: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) She sounds charming! I will check her out when my laptop stops being such a douche.

message 30: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam She's also pretty great in all those short films by Richard Kern...this is my favorite
OK, Lydia Lunch isn't in that particular one, but just watch it anyway.

Paquita Maria Sanchez Damn, Sam, way to link the Lydia with the Sonic Youth! I'm impressed by your internet, sub-culture, 6-degrees of Zola musical references prowess.

message 32: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie Also, Safety Math wrote: "She's also pretty great in all those short films by Richard Kern...this is my favorite
OK, Lydia Lunch isn't in that particular one, but just watch it anyway."

YOU KILLED ME FIRST! this killed *me*, "I knew you would hate it, why don't you cut it up and write fuck or anarchy on it?" the ending is...sad :'-( but I saw it coming.

Paquita Maria Sanchez The end of this novel, you mean? Oh, me too. I learned my lesson about Zola. That doesn't make it any less painful, though. You can see it coming, and then he will take what you see coming, and shit on it some more. He's astonishingly good at doing this without seeming forced or contrived at all. He's a "natural." (Get it? Because he's a 'Naturalist'? Rim-shot, yo!)

message 34: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie ha ha! I meant the video - but I see it applies to the book as well. I agree with you about Zola, and I need to read more of him - definitely L'assommoir.

message 36: by knig (new) - added it

knig So, now I have to read this, pretty pronto. I have no excuse not to, as Zola is a freebie on the kindle (which is turning out to be one of my few investments with a tangible return on it: so much stuff is free). I've only read Therese Raquine which was also pretty gruesome. Oh, and requiem for a dream was such a great film.

Paquita Maria Sanchez I agree on all points, especially the one about how you are going to read this book soon. By the way, I've been meaning to ask a digi-book owner: those things don't hurt your eyes or your head or anything? I mean, I've never played with one (twss), but they just seem so tiny.

message 38: by knig (last edited Jun 26, 2012 09:54PM) (new) - added it

knig Mine is 'the older generation' so it is the size of a smallish book (although the keyboard takes up a third of it). I was a reluctant convert, but now I love it. Eyes don't hurt, it is extremely easy to hold and in fact more comfortable than a book especially when you only have one hand free, size of print is adjustable, obviously really small and dinky, so very portable, has a built in dictionary (which is great. Before I'd try and remeber to look up a word at some future point, now I click and instant gratification), I can highlight and write notes without that guilty feeling that I've desecrated a book,bookmarks mean I'm never flipping back and forth when I want to re-read something, so its a neat experience. There are two negatives,which really, really piss me off, but not enough to chuck the kindle away: As there are no page numbers (Kindle deals with percentages), I have no way of knowing how 'big' or long the book is. Some people don't mind, but personally I'd like to know if I'm starting a 50 page novella or a 1000 page odyssey. Also, you can go back, but you can't skip forward. It only goes forward one page at a time, so you can't just quickly check the ending (like, gulp, I sometimes do). Phew, now I sound like a used car salesman, sorry.

Paquita Maria Sanchez You should never flip ahead! Keep it together, man!

message 40: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) The whole "built in dictionary" thing sounds very enticing... But the page number thing would drive me nuts.

message 41: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I have to say my ereader is seriously sexy. It's a sony, and it does all that the kindle can do and more. It gives page numbers and you can go to any page you want. The built in dictionary is great - it's in 10 languages or you can select google or wikipedia. And yet...10 new books entered my house this week...old habits die hard.

message 42: by Megha (new)

Megha Knig-o-lass wrote: "Mine is 'the older generation' so it is the size of a smallish book (although the keyboard takes up a third of it). I was a reluctant convert, but now I love it. Eyes don't hurt, it is extremely ea..."

Knig, on my Kindle page numbers are shown when I press the 'Go To' button in the Menu. I can chose to 'go to' a certain page/location/chapter/end. Also the left and right arrow keys let me skip to the previous or next chapter.
Have you tried any of these options?

message 43: by knig (new) - added it

knig Thanks: left and right arrows work, but go to page doesn't. Still 50% sucess!

message 44: by Judi (new) - added it

Judi Yippee! Two five star book recommendations to add to "to read" list. You write good reviews and I like your taste in books.

message 45: by David (new)

David Burroughs I have seldom read a more compelling and insightful review. As do I find myself transported into another's mind and great and find myself alternately wanting to scream at them, look out! don't open that door! put down that cup! do not answer that question! ...well, we cannot prevent them and we cannot prevent ourselves from riding along in their out of control roller coaster of life. Thank you!

Paquita Maria Sanchez No, thank you! So much nice!

message 47: by Mark (last edited Sep 03, 2015 04:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark My first (but not last) Zola - recommended by a work mate, an incredible book. Hope you have caught up with Nana, another favourite of mine. Also recommend L'Argent (Money), awesome

message 48: by Irene (new)

Irene E Love this review!!!! Love it!

Paquita Maria Sanchez Thank youuuu!!!

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