It’s a rollercoaster. L’Assommoir is the seventh, and most impressive, novel in Émile’s 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series. We follow the fierce Gervaise as she battles through love, marriage, divorce and the thankless task of managing her injured and alcohol-dependent husband, Coupeau.
Paris’ glitz is stripped away. Zola paints a raw, gritty and true picture of the underbelly of 19th-century Parisian life. There’s alcoholism, violence and poverty: these are people literally fighting to survive on the breadline. You won’t moan about the heating, or lack thereof, again.
Gervaise and Coupeau’s wedding party. It’s a chaotic itinerary, which involves trooping through the Musée du Louvre, a disorganised, alcohol-fuelled meal and then an argument over the bill. It’s a shambles, and Zola paints it masterfully.
It will make you reconsider alcohol and your relationship with it. It might have been first published in 1877, but L’Assommoir highlights how quickly booze can become a place to seek refuge. Put the glass down, ladies.