Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Sin of Father Mouret
Zut alors! The fifth book in Zola's Rougon Macquart series achieved the remarkable feet of being completely mad, but also incredibly dull. The plot is straightforward enough: a fanatical priest has a nervous breakdown, gets sent to a remote country house to recuperate, falls in love with a 16-year-old girl, gets her up the duff, returns to the priesthood and drives her to suicide. That will save you from ever having to read the book.
For a so-called realist, Zola seems to have been under the influence of something when he wrote this book, with its interminable descriptions of plants and the crude metaphors for the fecundity of nature. The result reads like Gardeners World meets Debbie Does Dallas (not that I've ever watched Gardeners World, you understand), but is considerably less entertaining.
It's strange how such a great writer can be so erratic. I could understand if he was an enfant terrible who went off the boil or, conversely, got better with each work. But with the Rougon Macquart novels, the quality varies dramatically from book to book.
I'm now reading the sixth book, His Excellency Eugene Rougon and although the jury's still out, it's a definite improvement on its predecessor, thank God. Once that's finished I can reward myself with the first of Zola's great novels, L'assamoir. I can't wait.