Title: A Love Story (Goodreads)
Author: Émile Zola
Translator: Helen Constantine
Series: Les Rougon-Macquart #8
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1877
My Copy: ARC from Publisher
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Une page d’amour starts off with Hélène Grandjean’s daughter Jeanne falling violently ill. What follows is the story of Hélène, an attractive young widow trying to care for her daughter and hide her secret love affair with Dr Henri Deberle. This is the eighth book in Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire), which really sums up what you can expect from the twenty novels found in the series.
This novel kicked off in a manner that really set the tone and pace but still allows Zola to impress the reader with his elegant style. Normally I find with older classics that they adopt a leisurelier pace but A Love Story was not a slow burn. I was very impressed with the way Émile Zola was able to keep that pace, while I sat in awe of the writing style. Most people know this French writer for Thérèse Raquin and I must admit that I picked A Love Story before knowing it was the eighth book in the series.
The twenty books in Les Rougon-Macquart series covers all aspects of life through the Second French Empire. This is the Imperial regime of Napoleon Bonaparte which took place from 1852 to 1870 (between the second and third French republics but that is too much of a history lesson). Zola wanted to explore French life and these books are often a social critique of the time. The end results is what is considered the most notable books in the French naturalism literary movement.
I will admit that I expected A Love Story to be social criticism, I even went in as viewing through a Marxist lens because the novel was set among the petite bourgeoisie. However I quickly discovered that this novel focused on the psychology of Hélène Grandjean, in particular the differences between love and marriage, as well as motherhood and duty. This was an intense look at a woman who discovered that she was never truly been in love. Her intense relationship with Dr Henri Deberle almost served as a sexual awakening. However the circumstances surrounding their relationship and lives leads the novel to its inevitable conclusion.
A Love Story was such a joy to read, however I do regret not starting elsewhere. There will be plenty more Émile Zola novels in my future, especially since I know that he often focuses on social criticism. I have Thérèse Raquin on my shelves, so I am sure it will happen soon but I suspect La Fortune des Rougon will happen in the near future as well. My love for French literature grows with every book I read, though it will never replace my Russian lit obsession. This is the type of book I would like to leisurely read while sitting in a Paris café, maybe that is how I will re-read A Love Story.