Friday, March 14, 2008
His Excellency Eugene Rougon
As a novel His Excellency doesn't work. The plot creaks along slowly and when it does change gear it is done in a way that is clumsy and uncompelling. However the book does have its merits. On the one hand it is a fascinating portrait of France during the rule of Louis Napoleon and even features the Emperor as one of the characters. Zola is clearly not a fan of the Second Empire, but his portrait of Napoleon III is balanced and plausible. Some of the historical references went over my head, but luckily I found a copy of the Penguin History of Modern France in a local charity shop for £1.
In Zola's novels, France in the mid-nineteenth century is ruled by a cabal of corrupt, greedy politicians who are more concerned with lining their own pockets (and those of their friends) than the glory of France. The historical accuracy of the Rougon Macquart novels is one of their chief merits, but at times I think the demands of fiction are subservient to Zola's desire for authenticity. His Excellency is a case in point.