L’Assommoir (The Drunkard) by Emile Zola

L’Assommoir by Emile Zola was first published in 1876. It’s the seventh book in his Rougon Macquart series.  My copy of the book is a Penguin Classic, published in 1985, it was translated by Leonard Tancock. I think he made a really good job of it.

The story begins with the young mother Gervaise waking up and realising that her partner Lantier hasn’t come home overnight – for the first time – she’s desolate. The couple had got together when Gervaise was just 14 and Lantier 18 and Gervaise had their first child when she was 14. They moved to Paris from the countryside when Lantier came into some money, and they had lived the high life until the money ran out. He leaves Gervaise, runs off with a local woman and cons Gervaise into pawning her clothes before he goes, so she’s left with the clothes she stands up in, he even took the pawn tickets.

In truth he’s no loss though, Gervaise can get on better without him and eventually she takes up with Coupeau, a roofer, and they get married and have a daughter, Nana. Gervaise is a hard working laundress and dreams of having her own laundry, she’s able to save money but just as it looks like she’ll be able to become her own boss Coupeau has an accident, falling off a roof. Gervaise is determined to nurse him herself, not trusting the doctors in the hospital, it’s a slow recuperation but a bit of a miracle that he has survived at all. However, all of the money has been used up by the time he is able to get out of bed, but worse than that, his whole personality has changed.

Coupeau’s previous strong work ethic has evaporated, he had enjoyed lazing in bed, has probably lost his nerve anyway, roaming about on roofs doesn’t have the same appeal to him now. Worst of all is that he has gone from hardly drinking alcohol at all to meeting up with old workmates in bars and drinking the day away. But Gervaise never complains, she’s far too easy going.

She does get her dream though as she manages to borrow money from a neighbour whose son is sweet on Gervaise, and it isn’t long before her laundry business is doing very well, she’s good at her job. Nobody is perfect though and Gervaise is concerned with what others think of her, she has a kind nature but she also likes to show off and is generous to people, which all costs money. Food is her downfall, she loves to cook delicacies and a party is more like a Roman feast, with everyone stuffing themselves and drinking wine until they throw it up. But she ends up owing money to all the shopkeepers and she is keeping Coupeau in money, he has no intention of working, but has turned into a drunkard.

Things go from bad to worse when Lantier turns up again and moves in with them – well – he is the father of her sons, but you can imagine what the neighbours thought of that situation. Gervaise now has two men to feed, clothe and keep in alcohol. It all ends in tears of course.

So that’s the bare bones of the book, there are a lot more ins and outs. It’s a great read although grim. I’m reading this series all out of order which I don’t think is really a problem, but this one features the childhood of Etienne – of Germinal fame, and of course Nana. I didn’t mean to take so long to get around to reading more by Zola, hopefully I’ll get around to another one next month.


Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham – The 1937 Club

I was having a tough time finding a 1937 book to read that I hadn’t already read, until I realised that I had a copy of Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham in a Far and Wide omnibus edition. I really liked it, he was such a good writer. The 1937 week is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

In Theatre, Maugham, as a successful playwright was writing about a subject that he knew well. Julia and Michael are married and have become a celebrity couple over the years, with Michael concentrating on the business side of things as he realised that he didn’t have the talent to become a successful actor, unlike Julia.  Michael is supposedly the best looking man in the country, which is what drew Julia to him in the first place, but they weren’t married long before Julia realised that he was a tight-fisted, narcissistic bore.

Julia is never off the stage, she’s always acting out her emotions, or the emotions that she thinks correct for the occasion, she’s completely artificial but seems to fool everyone, or so she thinks. It comes as a shock to her in her middle-age that others have been judging her, and she has been found to be wanting.

There’s obviously a lot more to the book than I’ve said, if you get the chance you should give it a go. I’m already planning to read another by Maugham soon.

The Classics Club Spin # 37

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 37. Make a list of twenty of the classic books that are on your Classics Club list of 50. I’m going to have different categories this time around.  I don’t mind which number comes up,  but whichever it is I will be reading that book and reviewing it by the 2nd of June.  Have you read any of the books on my list.

Do not ask me why my computer is lumping the five Scottish author’s list close together in a single space, but the others are double spaced and I can’t change them. It’s a conspiracy!

Five classic books by Scottish authors:

  1.  The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett
  2.  Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  3.  The Quarry Wood  by Nan Shepherd
  4.  The Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett by Compton Mackenzie
  5.  An Inland Voyage by R.L. Stevenson

Five classic books in translation:

6. L’Assommoir/The Drunkard by Emile Zola

7.  Virgin Soil by Ivan Turgenev

8. The Wrench by Primo Levi

9. Moments of Reprieve by Primo Levi

10. Clochmerle by Gabriel Chevallier

Five books by W. Somerset Maugham:

11. Cakes and Ale

12. The Moon and Sixpence

13. Up at the Villa

14. The Painted Veil

15. The Razor’s Edge

Five classic books for children/ Young Adults:

16. The Little Book Room by Eleanor Farjeon

17.  Night Fires by Joan Lingard

18. The Chalet School at War by Elinor M.Brent-Dyer

19. Limbo Lodge by Joan Aiken

20. Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle



The Classics Club Spin – The Years by Virginia Woolf

Well, I’ve been totally confused about this and I’ve just realised that I read the wrong book for this Classics Club spin.  I should have read Midnight Is a Place by Joan Aiken and I’ve read The Years by Virginia Woolf instead. That was a book which I was meant to be reading for Simon and Karen’s 1937 Club, which doesn’t come up until April.  Midnight is a Place is quite a hefty book so I doubt if I’ll be able to get it read by March, 3rd. Anyway, here we go.

Previously I had read three of Virginia Woolf’s novels and I had decided that she really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I found The Years to be much more enjoyable, probably because it’s a bit of a family saga.

The chapters are headed with a date, beginning with 1880 and continuing to 1891, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1918 and ending with The Present Day (which of course was 1937.) The first and the last chapters are more novella than chapter length. The setting is London, where the Pargiter family live, they’re a middle class family headed by a father who had been in the army. Colonel Pargiter had been wounded in the Indian Mutiny so has a damaged hand. His wife is dying and is upstairs in her bedroom, strangely everyone seems just to be tired of the whole process, she’s taking too long to die, there seems to be no love there, even from the grown children. The colonel has a mistress, but that’s a rather tepid affair too.

Each chapter contains some of the members of the wider family, over the years some drop out of sight, and re-appear later on, just as often happens in families.

You would think that World War 1 would feature in those war years, but it really doesn’t, it’s still all very domestic.  I thought this one was like a mini Forsyte Saga, but that might just be because it was set in the same era.

Jack also read this and blogged about it here.


Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf was published in 1941, but seems to have been written on the cusp of war.  Not long after finishing this book Woolf had filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse, depression is a terrible thing. Her husband wrote that he didn’t think that she would have made much in the way of changes to the text, if she had lived. That’s a real shame as for me the best thing about this novella was that it was only 100 pages long.  Suicide was obviously on her mind as she even mentions a man who had drowned himself.

About half of the book features a local village pageant, something which was popular in the days when people had to make their own entertainment, and also features in one of  E F  Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, albeit briefly. A pageant is the sort of thing that people would have gone to because ‘their wee Jeannie’ or someone they knew had a bit part in it.  I found it really boring. Between the acts of the play/pageant there’s chat among the audience.

The blurb says: Between the Acts, an account of a village pageant in the summer preceding the Second World War which successfully interweaves comedy, satire and disturbing observation.

Sadly it just didn’t do it for me. I’m a bit worried about having to read her The Years for the Classics Club spin, especially as it’s a lot longer.



Classics Club Spin # 33 – the result

The Classics Club Spin number has been chosen and it’s number 18. That means that before April, 30th I have to read Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson, published by Virago books. It was originally published in 1933.

This book is a fairly recent purchase, I think I bought it just last month in the Edinburgh Stockbridge Oxfam bookshop. I’ve never read anything by the author before – have you? Did you join in the CC Spin this month, if so which book did you get?

Classics Club Spin # 33

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 33. The spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 19th, March. Below is my list of 20 books and whichever book corresponds to the number chosen will be the book that I have to read before the 30th of April.

1. The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon
2. The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
3. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
4. The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield
5. The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
6. The Bridal Path by Nigel Tranter
7. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
8. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
9. Treasure Hunt by Molly Keane
10. Knight’s Fee by Rosemary Sutcliff
11. The Home by Penelope Mortimer
12. We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
13. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
14. Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
15. The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield
16. The Revolt of the Eagles by Jean Plaidy
17. The Battle of the Queens by Jean Plaidy
18. Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson
19. King of Shadows by Susan Cooper
20. My Career Goes Bung by Franklin Miles

Most of the books on this list are light reading and not what I would really regard as being classics, but much as I love Anthony Trollope, Zola and others I don’t feel in the mood for anything particularly heavy and long at the moment. The books on the list have all been around for a fair few years, and they’re all from my unread books shelves, so whichever number comes up it should be a win-win for me I think!

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff was first published in 1931 but my copy is a Persephone reprint.

The Stevens family of London consisting of mum, dad, grown son Dick and daughter Mary and younger son Ernie, always have a fortnight in September at Bognor. They always stay at the same boarding house which over the years has got shabbier and shabbier but they stay loyal to Mrs Haykin the owner. As both their older children are now out working there had been talk of Dick and Mary going elsewhere for their holiday this year, but that idea had come to nothing so Mr and Mrs Stevens are extra happy to be going away as normal as a family, it might be the last time.

There’s not a lot going on in this tale, the family pack and arrange for the luggage to be taken to the railway station, buy train tickets, worry about getting seats on the train, eat their sandwiches and resent the other travellers. But arriving at ‘Seaview’ in Bognor is like slipping on an old pair of comfy shoes to them, it’s going to be a great holiday – and it is, with wonderful weather.

Money has always been a bit tight for the family and they’re thrilled when the father decides that they will just be able to afford to hire a beach hut this time, it’s such a luxury. Everything is carefully calculated including the ginger beer they drink with their meals, and the bottle of port as a medicine for Mrs Stevens which Dick carefully marks with fourteen lines so that she knows how much to pour out each evening.

This is a real comfort read about a very ordinary family who presumably live in Sydenham as their home has a view of the Crystal Palace which is half a mile away. They’re such a lovely set of people though and as families go they’re very close, possibly because they don’t live in each other’s pockets and have some time away from each other doing their own thing. It’s their kindness and loyalty to old Mrs Haykin that marks them out as decent people, standing above others who might presume to be their betters, it’s an unexpectedly entertaining read.

I did think though while I was reading this book that young Ernie should have been at school in September, and his elder siblings too when they were still of school age. Presumably that was because Mr Stevens was so budget conscious, and September boarding house prices were lower than July or August rates.

Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham – The Classics Club Spin

I have to admit that I failed completely at the The Classics Club spin this time around. I had The Moon and Sixpence at number 6 and I stuck at it for about 50 pages but it just wasn’t grabbing me and life is too short – so I gave it up and substituted Liza of Lambeth, a total cheat I know but I still wanted to take part in The Classics Club.

Anyway, Liza of Lambeth is W. Somerset Maugham’s first foray into authorship, well the first one published anyway. He was a medical student at the time and was able to use those experiences in the story.

The year is around the middle of Victoria’s reign and the setting is Lambeth, a working class area of London and it begins with the inhabitants of Vere Street enjoying themselves on a hot afternoon in August, with the children playing cricket and the women sitting at their doorsteps gossiping. It’s an area where a lot of the women are at various stages of pregnancy and the men are too handy with their fists, but that’s all seen as being normal.

Eliza is young and single, and living with her mother who apparently suffers from ill health, but in reality she’s an alcoholic. Liza is the life and soul of the street though, she loves clothes and dancing and is very popular, especially with Tom who is besotted with her, but Tom is too quiet and boring for Liza’s liking. She’s got her eyes on Jim who is twice her age and has just moved into the street with his wife and five children, soon to be six. It isn’t going to end well.

I really enjoyed this one although it was quite predictable, but after all it was his first book. It’s quite grim in parts, however I’ve no doubt that the setting is very authentic with domestic violence hard drinking and early deaths being more likely than not. Maugham must have seen plenty of evidence of both when he was working as a student doctor in a London hospital.

Did you take part in the Spin this time around?

Lady Susan / The Watsons / Sanditon by Jane Austen

As it’s almost the end of the year I’m just ‘redding up’ (tidying/clearing up) my book reviews. Actually I must admit that this isn’t even a review, just a mention that as expected I enjoyed re-reading Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon. However, it’s so long since I actually read the books that I can’t really go into any details!

Luckily Jack read them just before I did so if you’re interested in his thoughts you can have a look here. Can you believe that Jack had never read anything by Jane Austen before 2019?!