After reading beaucoup Zola during February and March, I got bogged down in His Excellency, Eugene Rougon at the beginning of April and couldn't continue past the third chapter. My mind steadfastly refused to engage no matter how much bookworm muscle I put behind it, and my eyes just slid off the page like they were greased.
Zola was not at his most vivacious when writing about politics. I also went into the book knowing that I have a zzzzzzzz factor when it comes to Eugene. His mom and dad (mere and pere, I should say) were interesting because they pulled themselves up from the lower classes by luck and finesse. Although Eugene's brother Aristide Saccard makes my skin crawl, at least he gets your attention with his sliminess. As for Dr. Pascal, the other brother, I can't keep my eyes off of him because he's so unlike the rest of the family. So far, he's not ruthlessly ambitious or an addict or batshit crazy. He's just a hell of a nice guy, even if his best intentions sometimes go badly.
Our Boy Emile seems a little workmanlike when he's writing about the Rougons. Politics is a rather intricate thing and he's got to labor to make sure all the pieces fit. Characterization seems to get sacrificed and since he tends to juggle a bunch of minor characters, they all run together like an anemic watercolor. This is especially true if you have (like me) been reading the Rougon-Macquart cycle out of order and you've seen him have a go at the Macquart and Mouret branches of the family. When he's with them, there's blood in his veins; there's a fire in the furnace. Although the action gets a little repetitive, the reader doesn't feel as if the action is on hold while Zola pauses to finickily arrange and rearrange his chess pieces.
I skipped ahead to Germinal, in which Zola examines the conditions of working in a coal mine and a subsequent miner's strike, and everything is going smoothly again. The R-M connection in Germinal is Etienne Lantier, who is the son of Gervaise Macquart from L'Assommoir, so it'll be interesting to see if (or how) he's messed up. I'm 6 chapters in and my interest is high.
Now that I'm back on track with my Zolalove, I have a hankering to read a massive biography (800+ pages) of Zola by Frederick Brown. Sadly, it was ready and waiting for me for four years at my previous school's library. It's not at this school. Four years in which I could have read this book. How many times did I circle that shelf thinking that I might check it out? Even now, I can see it sitting there, its mylar dust jacket making it shine like a big piece of ripe fruit.
Forehead, I smite you, and call you vous.