Arundhati Roy

[Indian | 1961– ]

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is the author of The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than forty languages. Roy has also published several works of non-fiction and is a widely respected human rights activist. Several of Roy’s works are set out below.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

As Alex Clark articulates, there is something Janus-faced about the way we fetishise the writing of fiction: Roy is at once seen to be participating in the “real world” but also as having abandoned – or been abandoned by – the creative muse that we imagine propels all artists. Her recent interview with the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead, in which she said: “To me, there is nothing higher than fiction. Nothing. It is fundamentally who I am. I am a teller of stories. For me, that’s the only way I can make sense of the world, with all the dance that it involves,” suggests that she would not agree with that binary worldview. And neither, indeed, does her second novel.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) is, according to Alex Clark, “a curious beast.” There are many many characters, its written in an achronological way and while the style is somewhat haphazard, it has passages of breathtakingly composed and powerful prose: The idea that the personal is political and vice versa informs its every sentence. This novel of maddeningly frayed edges, wonky pacing and occasional longueurs. But its patchwork of narratives, painful, funny, sexy, violent, earthy, otherworldly, its recurring images of lost and recovered children, individual sacrifice and self-denial, and its depiction of the constant battle toward self-assertion in a society still held in thrall to the taxonomy of caste and class, make for a disturbing and memorable return to the land of make-believe.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing

According to Shirley Chew (2008), the novel is, “deftly and sensitively narrated.” According to Marie Arana (2011), “every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. Why you peck like a magpie past the bright glitter of publishers’ promises. Why you read.” Roy’s An Atlas of Impossible Longing is such a book, a novel to convince us that boldly drawn sagas with larger-than-life characters are still possible in a relentlessly postmodern world.

Spanning three generations of an Indian family from the turn of the 20th Century to India’s partition, An Atlas of Impossible Longing traces the intertwining lives of the inhabitants of a vast and isolated house on the outskirts of a small town in Bengal. One of the book’s main protagonists is a first-time novelist, is no one you’ve heard of, and yet she is also no stranger to books. She lives in the picturesque hill station of Ranikhet, in the distant Himalaya mountains, and commutes to New Delhi, where she works for an academic publisher that specializes in South Asia. It begins in 1907, when Amulya leaves Calcutta with his young wife, Kananbala, and travels to the backwater of Songarh to open a factory to manufacture herbal potions and perfumes. In time, they produce a son, who is a joy to them both, but the quiet cramp of small-town life becomes anath­ema to the lonely mother. She starts to evince strange symptoms, begins speaking out of turn and is given to obscene outbursts.

As months go by, it is clear she has gone mad.

The God of Small Things

Betrayal is a constant element in The God of Small Things. Love, ideals, and confidence are all forsaken, consciously and unconsciously, innocently and maliciously, and these deceptions affect all of the characters deeply. Read my review: The God of Small Things

📙 The Magic of Reality

O. J. ( as in, “Oh, Jay!” )

This book really and truly fascinated me:

The examples and illustrations are mind opening and mind blowing, respectively.

96
p. 96

Richard Dawkins (see full profile here) is an English evolutionary biologist, author and professor at Oxford University. His seminal work The Selfish Gene (1976), popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. Here are a few extracts from The Magic of Reality that I feel it is okay to share as editable .pdf files:

pp. 12-13 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 32-52 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 118-139 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 246-265 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)

📙 The Forty Rules of Love

[Elif Shafak | 1971– ]

Every true love is a story of transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, we haven’t loved …

Elif Shafak’s, The Forty Rules of Love, is one of the BBC’s ‘100 Novels that Shaped the World.’ The book centres around forty rules (these are listed chronologically at the bottom of this post!). One of the novels key protagonists is Ella Rubinstein. She has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness at the heart of her life – an emptiness once filled by love. So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down. She embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work… Aziz Z. Zahara. They started email conversations and shared each other’s feelings. First they addressed each other formally and soon after they intermingled ideologically they became friends, then they slowly but surly become…

‘The past and present fit together beautifully in a passionate defence of passion itself’
The Times


Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist and the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published over ten novels thus far. She is an advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech and, has a PhD in political science.

Populism preys on rose-tinted memories of past glories and distorts it into something ugly.

— Elif Shafak

Writing in The Guardian in 2017, Shafak argues passionately and eloquently that we should,”abandon once and for all the cliche about public intellectuals being arrogant and aloof.”

Populism creates its own myths. It tells us that intellectuals are “a privileged liberal elite” out of touch with “the real people.”

— Elif Shafak

It is not true, she stresses, that intellectuals are a privileged class and today’s rise in “anti-public intellectual discourse” is an alarming trend (see: Lust and Lambast). It is a trend fed by populism, nationalism, isolationism. It is also fed by social media and a modern world with a shortened attention span (see: ‘Deepfake’).


Other noteworthy books by Elif Shafak

The Flea Palace

Shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, Elif Shafak’s The Flea Palace is a moving and highly original novel about a group of individuals who live in the same building and who together become embroiled in a mystery. By turns comic and tragic, The Flea Palace is an outstandingly original novel driven by an overriding sense of social justice. Bonbon Palace was once a stately apartment block in Istanbul. Now it is a sadly dilapidated home to ten wildly different individuals and their families. There’s a womanising, hard-drinking academic with a penchant for philosophy; a ‘clean freak’ and her lice-ridden daughter; a lapsed Jew in search of true love; and a charmingly naïve mistress whose shadowy past lurks in the building. When the rubbish at Bonbon Palace is stolen, a mysterious sequence of events unfolds that result in a soul-searching quest for truth.

The Architect’s Apprentice

Filled with all the colour of the Ottoman Empire, when Istanbul was the teeming centre of civilisation, The Architect’s Apprentice is a magical, sweeping tale of one boy and his elephant caught up in a world of wonder and danger. Sixteenth century Istanbul: a stowaway arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. The boy is utterly alone in a foreign land, with no worldly possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie. So begins an epic adventure that will see young Jahan rise from lowly origins to the highest ranks of the Sultan’s court. Along the way he will meet deceitful courtiers and false friends, gypsies, animal tamers, and the beautiful, mischievous Princess Mihrimah. He will journey on Chota’s back to the furthest corners of the Sultan’s kingdom and back again. And one day he will catch the eye of the royal architect, Sinan, a chance encounter destined to change Jahan’s fortunes forever.

The Gaze

This elegant novel explores our desire to look at others. As one critic put it, The Gaze considers the damage which can be inflicted by our simple desire to look at others. The book’s two main characters are an obese woman and her lover, a dwarf. Both are sick of being stared at wherever they go and so decide to reverse roles. The man goes out wearing make-up and the woman draws a moustache on her face.

The Bastard of Istanbul

The story centers around the characters of Asya Kazancı and Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian. It is set in both America and Turkey and centres on the families of these to protagonists and how they are connected through the events of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

One rainy afternoon in Istanbul, a woman walks into a doctor’s surgery and states simply, “I need to have an abortion.” She is nineteen years old and she is not married. What happens that afternoon will change her life. Twenty years later, Asya Kazanci lives with her extended family in Istanbul. Due to a mysterious family curse, all the Kaznci men die in their early forties, so it is a house of women, among them Asya’s beautiful, rebellious mother Zeliha, who runs a tattoo parlour; Banu, who has newly discovered herself as clairvoyant; and Feride, a hypochondriac obsessed with impending disaster. And when Asya’s Armenian-American cousin Armanoush comes to stay, long hidden family secrets connected with Turkey’s turbulent past begin to emerge.


The 40 rules of love

Rule 1
How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.

Rule 2
The path to the Truth is a labour of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God.

Rule 3
You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.

Rule 4
Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advices, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.

Rule 5
Most of problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language, as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.

Rule 6
Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.

Rule 7
Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that he has been denied.

Rule 8
Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.

Rule 9
East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.

Rule 10
The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.

Rule 11
The quest for love changes user. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.

Rule 12
There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Do not confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the light of God pass through them.

Rule 13
Try not to resist the changes, which come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?

Rule 14
God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.

Rule 15
It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human being with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.

Rule 16
Real faith is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure water, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.

Rule 17
The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you. Everything that you see around, including the things that you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within.

Rule 18
If you want to change the ways others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.

Rule 19
Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That is the hardest part and that is what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.

Rule 20
We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is an amount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.

Rule 21
When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference, not our outer appearance. Sufis do not judge other people on how they look or who they are. When a Sufi stares at someone, he keeps both eyes closed instead opens a third eye – the eye that sees the inner realm.

Rule 22
Life is a temporary loan and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for the real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.

Rule 23
The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it fells upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.

Rule 24
Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy or fight someone we tumble straight into the fires of hell.

Rule 25
Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level of tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that the majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batin – the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.

Rule 26
The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile.

Rule 27
Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you. Therefore, if there is someone who harbours ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse. You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy. Instead for forty days and nights say and think nice things about that person. Everything will be different at the end of 40 days, because you will be different inside.

Rule 28
The past is an interpretation. The future is on illusion. The world does not more through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.

Rule 29
Destiny doesn’t mean that your life has been strictly predetermined. Therefore, to live everything to the fate and to not actively contribute to the music of the universe is a sign of sheer ignorance. The music of the universe is all pervading and it is composed on 40 different levels. Your destiny is the level where you play your tune. You might not change your instrument but how well to play is entirely in your hands.

Rule 30
The true Sufi is such that even when he is unjustly accused, attacked and condemned from all sides, he patiently endures, uttering not a sing bad word about any of his critics. A Sufi never apportions blame. How can there be opponents or rivals or even “others” when there is no “self” in the first place? How can there be anyone to blame when there is only One?

Rule 31
If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss or fright, one way or another, we are all faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before…

Rule 32
Nothing should stand between you and God. No imams, priests, rabbits or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters and not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.

Rule 33
While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.

Rule 34
Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission a power that comes within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquillity and peace even the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.

Rule 35
In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the nonbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of Insane-I Kamil, the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.

Rule 36
This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. For not the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does it beautifully.

Rule 37
God is a meticulous dock maker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.

Rule 38
It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one-way to be born into a new life: to die before death.

Rule 39
While the part change, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs this world, a new one is born. And every descent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes. For every Sufi who dies, another is born somewhere.

Rule 40
A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.

📙 The Buddha of Suburbia

[Hanif Kureishi | 1954– ]

Hanif Kureishi grew up in Kent, England, and studied philosophy at King’s College London. The Buddha of Suburbia was awarded the Whitbread Award for best first novel in 1990 and three years later was adapted as a BBC mini-series with a soundtrack composed by David Bowie. In 2008, The Times included Kureishi in their list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.’


According to Simon Robb, The Buddha of Suburbia, which was Hanif Kureishi’s first published novel, remains an important time capsule for teenage life in 1970s London. The book deals with the racial politics of that time; a time when immigrants (such as the Indian immigrant family at the centre of this work) were treated as intruders on British soil (aren’t they still??).

The book’s plot is quite straightforward and there’s no neat resolution, but Kureishi’s blunt treatment of race, politics and sexuality is gripping and he confronts well the uncomfortable home truths about British attitudes towards foreigners. Its coming of age protagonist Karim, a “hybrid” of Asian and English blood, is searching for sex and a sense of belonging in the suburbs. He is torn between wanting acceptance from two camps: white supremacists and alienated immigrants. Meanwhile, his father, the book’s most memorable character, is on a similar path, teaching Buddhist discipline to a generation of ageing hippies, while Karim indulges in drugs and mutual masturbation behind closed doors.

England’s a nice place if you’re rich, but otherwise it’s a fucking swamp of prejudice [and] class confusion…

Émile Zola

[French | 1840–1902]

Émile Zola is amongst the most famous French writers of all time. He led an active political life and was a very important contributor to the Naturalist movement–a literary movement that rejects Romanticism and embraces scientific objectivism and includes social commentary. It is verily the case that Zola’s novels are filled with realism and it is evident that he wanted to create accurate portrayals of what life was actually like by way of ‘fiction’…

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin (1867) was one of Zola’s first novels and it received a lot of negative criticism when first released. Moreover, it caused something of a scandal and lent the then young Zola a notoriety that followed him throughout his life.

Sex, imprisonment and animalistic tendencies are just a few of the main themes of this novel.

The book is not only an uninhibited portrayal of adultery, madness and ghostly revenge, but also a devastating exploration of the darkest aspects of human existence.

It is a dark and gripping story of lust, violence and guilt, set in the gloomy back streets of Paris.

It is the story of Thérèse, a 21-year-old woman who is unhappily married to her cousin. In the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dingy haberdasher’s shop on the Passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris, Thérèse Raquin is trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille. The numbing tedium of her life is suddenly shattered when she embarks on a turbulent affair with her husband’s earthy friend Laurent, but their animal passion for each other soon compels the lovers to commit a crime that will haunt them forever.


Zola believed that the novel should dive below the surface of everyday life, revealing the dirt, gossip, waste, greed, hostility, and bitterness that other writers refused to acknowledge. Inspired by the discussions of human evolution and natural selection raging around the western world at the time, Zola wanted to use literature to expose and acknowledge the animal in all of us, the most basic instincts that still drive us no matter how “civilized” we attempt to be.

With full thanks and credit to Rachel Cordasco (who has a Ph.D in literary studies) who compiled a chronological list of the 20 Les Rougon Macquart books (this collection’s bi-line is: the Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire). This collection is seen as Zola’s magnum opus.* The series follows the offspring of two families over a period of twenty years (1851-1870) and, enabled Zola to explore the lives of such people in French society as coal miners, department store managers, painters, politicians, priests, slum-dwellers, and prostitutes.

01 — La fortune des Rougon
This book, published in 1871, introduces the reader to many of the characters in the series and sets them against the backdrop of political upheaval following the coup d’état** of Louis-Napoleon in December 1851.

02 — La curée
The Kill (1872) is a scathing portrait of the middle-class that brings into relief its lust for money and pleasure in an age of decadence.

03 — Le ventre de Paris
The novel, The Belly of Paris (1873), features Les Halles, a vast, roofed meat and produce market, and a man whose struggle against the coup d’état* acts as a constant rebuke to the reforms of the Second Empire.

04 — La conquête de Plassans
The Conquest of Plassans (1874) is the story of a politically-minded priest, a woman’s psychological collapse, and apparently one heck of a shocking ending.

05 — La faute de l’Abbé Mouret
Father Mouret’s Transgression (1875) is a surrealistic novel set near Plassans that focuses on a priest who, worn down by illness and intense devotion, falls under the care of an Eve-like figure.

“Sin ought to be something exquisite, my dear boy.”

06 — Son Excellence Eugéne Rougon
In which the eponymous character, once a powerful government minister, plans his return to power with the help of an Italian adventuress. Penned in 1876.

07 — L’assomoir
The Dram Shop (1877) is a sombre novel about a working-class laundress who, despite wanting to improve her circumstances, ultimately destroys herself with the help of her husband, her ex-husband, and large quantities of alcohol. Gervaise Macquart, a woman with two sons who is abandoned by her lover and is forced to fend for herself and protect her family against her newfound lover’s alcoholism. This book explores the problems of alcoholism and poverty in 19th century Paris, especially in the working-class areas of the city.

Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, by Édouard Manet (1882)
Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, by Édouard Manet (1882)

08 — Une page d’amour
A Love Story (1878) follows a lonely woman dealing with her daughter’s neurological problems, a doctor who tries to help, and the love that blossoms between them but, as this is Naturalism…

09 — Nana
Having escaped a life of brutality and neglect, Nana becomes a popular Parisian courtesan, bleeding dry her many rich conquests and basically taking Paris by storm, that is, until she destroys herself through excess. Zola wrote this one in 1880.

10 — Pot-Bouille
A massive tragi-farce, Pot-luck (1882) details the rise of Octave Mouret to become the head of “Au bonheur des dames,” making it the largest department store in Paris and enriching himself through affairs and some wheeling-and-dealing.

11 — Au bonheur des dames
The Ladies’ Delight (1883) is the glittering Paris department store run by Octave Mouret. He has used charm and drive to become director of this mighty emporium, unscrupulously exploiting his young female staff and seducing his lady customers with luxurious displays of shimmering silks, satins, velvets and lace. Then Denise Baudu, a naïve provincial girl, becomes an assistant at the store – and Mouret discovers that he in turn can also be enchanted. A detailed, complex exploration of the rise of the modern department store and how it sucked the life out of smaller retail shops, set against an improbable love story.

12 — La joie de vivre
The Joys of Living (1884) is bleak story of an orphaned girl whose guardians spend her inheritance and blame her for their problems.

13 — Germinal
Germinal (1885) is a powerful story about coal miners who strike in order to change the terrible conditions under which they must work. Germinal is the 13th novel in Zola’s collection of Les Rougon-Macquart, a set of books that he grouped together, creating blood ties between some of the characters in order to try to give a complete panorama of life under Napoleon the Second. Germinal is the harsh, realistic account of coalminers’ lives in the north of France and their hopes for a better life. At the centre of the novel is Etienne Lantier, a handsome 21 year-old mechanic, intelligent but with little education and a dangerous predisposition to murderous, alcoholic rage. Germinal tells the parallel story of Etienne’s refusal to accept what he appears destined to become, and of the miners’ difficult decision to strike in order to fight for a better standard of life.

14 — L’oeuvre
The Masterpiece (1886) is based partly on the experiences of Cezanne, L’oeuvre chronicles the life of a brilliant but emotionally-overwrought painter who helps usher in a new era of art but ultimately cannot complete his work or settle down into a stable family life. Often translated into English as The Masterpiece, L’Oeuvre is the 14th novel of the Rougon-Macquart collection. It is a fictionalization of Zola and Cezanne’s friendship and it aims to represent the world of artists in 19th century Paris, exploring the rise of movements such as Naturalism, Realism and Impressionism in the art world.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

Déjeuner sur l’herbe, by Édouard Manet, 1863
by Édouard Manet (1882)

15 — La terre
The Earth (1887) is a fascinating portrayal of a struggling but decadent community…

The Earth offers a compelling exploration of the destructive nature of human ignorance and greed.

When Jean Macquart arrives in the peasant community of Beauce, where farmers have worked the same land for generations, he quickly finds himself involved in the corrupt affairs of the local Fouan family. Aging and Lear-like, Old Man Fouan has decided to divide his land between his three children: his penny-pinching daughter Fanny, his eldest son – a far from holy figure known as ‘Jesus Christ’ – and the lecherous Buteau, Macquart’s friend. But in a community where land is everything, sibling rivalry quickly turns to brutal hatred, as Buteau declares himself unsatisfied with his lot.

16 — Le rêve
The Dream (1888) focuses on an orphaned girl (again) who falls in love with a nobleman, and all the strongly-held religious beliefs and traditions that conspire–through the nobleman’s father–to keep them apart.

17 — La bête humaine
The Human Beast (1890) is violent story of sex and murder, this particular novel delves deep into the psyche of a young man abandoned by his mother in the countryside and his ultimate rage against women and loss of control.

18 — L’argent
Money (1891) is a satire of the Crédit Mobilier scandal of the 1870s, L’argent portrays the financial machinations of a man who is blind to everything but the acquisition of wealth.

19 — Le débâcle
The Debacle (1892) is a scathing but objective look at France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War through the story of two soldiers who bond in the field and then during the bloody days of the Paris Commune. This is a thriller novel in which Zola explores the themes of sexuality and psychosis. The main character, who is the brother of Germinal’s protagonist, has a hereditary madness. Jack the Ripper was an important source of inspiration for Zola for this character, whose psychosis consists in him only being sexually aroused when he kills women, and he thus goes on a terrifying rampage while travelling on a train …

A haunting, impressionistic study of a man’s slow corruption by jealousy.

Roubaud is consumed by a jealous rage when he discovers a sordid secret about his young wife’s past. The only way he can rest is by forcing her to help him murder the man involved, but there is a witness – Jacques Lantier, a fellow railway employee. Jacques, meanwhile, must contend with his own terrible impulses, for every time he sees a woman he feels the overwhelming desire to kill. In the company of Roubaud’s wife, Severine, he finds peace briefly, yet his feelings for her soon bring disastrous consequences. A key work in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, The Beast Within is one of Zola’s most dark and violent works – a tense thriller of political corruption and a graphic exploration of the criminal mind.

20 — Le docteur Pascal
Doctor Pascal (1893) is the novel that brings the entire cycle home, in which Zola depicts himself as “Doctor Pascal,” a member of the Rougon-Macquart family whose genealogical research has shown him the patchwork of greed, violence, and cruelty of his forebears, even as it ends on a note of hope for future generations.

Edouard_Manet_049
Portrait of Émile Zola, by Édouard Manet (1868)

Zola's signature
Signed, sealed and delivered.

Notes

* Magnum opus
noun
— A work of art, music, or literature that is regarded as the most important or best work that an artist, composer, or writer has produced.

** Coup d’état
noun
— Another term for ‘coup’: (1) A sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government. (2) An instance of successfully achieving something difficult.

Edith Wharton

[American | 1862-1937]

Edith Wharton was born in 1862 (which was during the American Civil War) and published her first short story in 1891. Wharton’s first novel–The Valley of Decision–came out in 1902 and, arguably, her most famous work, The House of Mirth, was published in 1905 See below). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921 (see all Pulitzer Prize winners here). Edith Wharton died in France in her villa, “Pavilion Colombes,” in 1937.

Beware of monotony; it’s the mother of all the deadly sins.

(Rather like, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ if people don’t have anything to do with their time, they are likely to get up to monkey business.)

The Age of Innocence

As with most of the novels Wharton set in New York this book makes an ironic commentary on the cruelties and hypocrisies of upper class American society in the years before, during and after WWII.

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska to New York society sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, a pretty ingénue, when May’s cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Olenska’s sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer’s life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.

― Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Ethan Frome

When this novel was first published in 1911, most of the reviews were critical and negative. Reviewers said the story was cruel and violent (sales in those early years were poor too). But, fast forward to today and this book is one of Wharton’s most widely read works. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel; it centres on a haunting tale of forbidden romance in the frozen waste of a harsh rural New England winter.

Ethan Frome is a tale of despair, forbidden emotions, and sexual tensions… The protagonist, Ethan Frome, works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeenie. But when Zeenie’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a ‘hired girl’, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent. In the words of the Penguin Classics series editors, “in one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies.”

I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you’re sick and when you’re lonesome.

― Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

The House of Mirth

This is often described as a black comedy centering on huge wealth and a woman (Lily) who can define herself only through the perceptions of others. Wharton is mercilessly frank as she chronicles Lily’s fall from grace, contrasting psychological insights with descriptions of external effects.

The beautiful Lily Bart lives among the nouveaux riches of New York City – people whose millions were made in railroads, shipping, land speculation and banking. In this morally bankrupt world, Lily, 29, seeks a husband who can satisfy her cravings for endless admiration and all the trappings of wealth. But her quest comes to a scandalous end when she is accused of being the mistress of a wealthy man…

It is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be.

― Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

The Age of Innocence
From page to stage: “The Age of Innocence”

D H Lawrence

[English | 1885–1930]

D H Lawrence is amongst the greatest figures of 20th c. English literature. Taken as a whole his work represents an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation.

Poet & a Painter (& a writer of Prose too)
Poet & a Painter (& a writer of Prose too)

In his poetry, prose and paintings, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality as well as human sexuality and instinct. At the time of his death in 1928 it was said that his public reputation was that of a pornographer and a wasted talent. Yet, as stated on the Portry Foundation’s website, E.M. Forster–think: Room with a View–begged to differ. In an obituary notice he went so far as to declare that Lawrence was, “the greatest imaginative novelist of [that] generation.”

One must learn to love, and go through a good deal of suffering to get to it, and the journey is always towards the other soul.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

“Lady Constance Chatterley is trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who is impotent. Oppressed by her dreary life, she is drawn to Mellors the gamekeeper. Breaking out against the constraints of society she yields to her instinctive desire for him and discovers the transforming power of physical love which leads them both towards fulfilment.”

‘Connie was aware, however, of a growing restlessness…It thrilled inside her body, in her womb, somewhere, till she felt she must jump into water and swim to get away from it; a mad restlessness. It made her heart beat violently for no reason…’

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (📙 read the book, pdf format) was first published privately in 1928 in Italy, and in 1929 in France–it was banned (forbidden/prohibited) in the U.K. Indeed, it wasn’t properly published in uncensored format in the U.K. until 1960. As Wikipedia say, the book’s publication only happened after an obscenity trial against the publisher Penguin Books was won by Penguin. After winning, in short order, Penguin sold 3 million copies. The book was/is notorious for its story of the physical (and emotional) relationship between a working class man and an upper class woman, its explicit descriptions of sex, and its use of then-unprintable (four-letter) words.

We fucked a flame into being.

― D H Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Women in Love

Women in Love begins one blossoming spring day in England and ends with a terrible catastrophe in the snow of the Alps. Ursula and Gudrun are very different sisters who become entangled with two friends, Rupert and Gerald, who live in their hometown. The bonds between the couples quickly become intense and passionate but whether this passion is creative or destructive is unclear.

In this groundbreaking work–widely considered to be one of Lawrence’s best–he explores what it means to be human in an age of conflict and confusion.

The Rainbow

Like above, The Rainbow was considered controversial in its time due to its portrayal of how sexual desire, especially in women, can affect relationships. Not only was is banned in the U.K. for 11 years but 1,000 copies were ceremoniously burned.

The novel is set between the 1840s and the early years of the twentieth century and tells the story of three generations of the Brangwen family; by way of, “courting, pregnancy, marriage and defiance Lawrence explores love and the conflicts it brings.”

Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers was published in 1913 and–surprise, surprise–was initially considered to be obscenity. Today though it is regarded as a masterpiece by many critics and amongst Lawrence’s finest achievements.

In the novel, protagonist Paul Morel is the focus of his disappointed and fiercely protective mother’s life. Their tender, devoted and intense bond comes under strain when Paul falls in love with Miriam Leivers, a local girl his mother disapproves of. The arrival of the provocatively modern Clara Dawes causes further tension and Paul is torn between his individual desires and family allegiances.


📙 Love Poems and Others

Love is never a fulfillment. Life is never a thing of continuous bliss. There is no paradise. Fight and laugh and feel bitter and feel bliss: and fight again. Fight, fight. That is life.