Monday, April 29, 2019

191. La Bete Humaine

La Bete Humaine
The Monomaniac
Emile Zola
Around 500 pages

The last two entries on the List were both appallingly racist and shamelessly misogynistic, so I was eager for some Zola to alleviate the hangover. Not that Zola necessarily makes me feel more hopeful about humanity, but at least he is slightly less hateful about it.

It is not really necessary to have read the preceding novels in this series to understand the story, but if you have, it might interest you to know that the Human Beast of the title is Lantier, brother of Etienne (from Germinal) and half-brother of Nana (from The Drunkard and Nana). Lantier is frequently visited by the impulse to brutally murder women, but so far he has successfully resisted. Instead, he focuses his energies on running a train engine, which he is creepily enamoured with. Meanwhile, Rouband is a station master who suspects his wife Severine had an affair with one of the station directors. Rouband also happens to be a homicidal maniac, so he resolves to do something about it. Lantier becomes involved with Severine, which leads to even more murderous mayhem.

I have seen this title translated a few different ways: The Human Beast, The Beast Within, The Monomaniac, and Judas is a Woman. That last one really gets me; it's not enough that they will hold Eve over our heads for all eternity. Now the crucifixion is our fault as well. In any case, no one can inhabit the mind of a killer better than Zola can; it is actually a bit frightening. I think Zola might have been Jack the Ripper.

Putting aside my baseless accusations, this was obviously a well written book and as always, he is  keenly aware of the nuances of human behavior. His characterization of the train engine was brilliant and his imagery was unforgettable. I am going to miss that boy.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Seventeenth book in Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart series.

My official ranking of Zola's work, from best to worst:

1. Therese Raquin
2. La Bete Humaine
3. Germinal
4. Nana
5. The Drunkard

UP NEXT: The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. The last Tolstoy on the List. We really are saying goodbye to a lot of big names as we finish up the 19th century. I'm excited to see what's next!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

190. By the Open Sea

By the Open Sea
August Strindberg
Around 200 pages

"To caution the boy against the supreme power of the sexual instinct was equivalent to casting a slur on womankind." Thank goodness Strindberg sticks up for us woman like this and prevents our good name from being tarnished. Keep fighting the good fight, August. Let's take a minute to appreciate a few more quotes from this novel that prove Strindberg is God's gift to womankind.

  • "To the third class belonged all children, most criminals, most women, and some lunatics, all of whom he considered intermediary forms between man and mammal, unendowed with the capacity of differentiating between subject and object."
  • "Dead was the hope of his youth to find the woman whom he was seeking: the woman who had sufficient brain to acknowledge that her sex was inferior to his."
  • "But you know, Axel, a woman is a child until she becomes a mother."
Now, you could of course argue that Strindberg doesn't necessarily hold these views; these are the views of the main character, Axel Borg, a man so completely insufferable that he could only be Strindberg himself. Strindberg describes a man who is a literary genius, unappreciated by the stupid, mediocre villagers around him. It's obvious to me that Axel Borg is Strindberg, but as I am a woman, and thus am incurably childish and moronic, Strindberg would advise you not to take my word for it.

I'm all for books with insufferable main characters. I even liked The Catcher in the Rye, although at least with that novel, you walked away with the notion that Holden would grow out of his ideas; Axel is in his thirties so I am not holding out much hope. 

Strindberg is a mean writer. He is mean to his characters and mean to his readers. Although to be fair to Strindberg, he probably didn't expect a woman to read his book (our brains can't handle the words, you see). Last Strindberg on the List. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Ingmar Bergman and Tennessee Williams have both cited Strindberg as an influence. I do not find this particularly shocking.

UP NEXT: La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola.  Last Zola on the List!