La Bete Humaine…

I first took a pop at this book back in April of this year but after consuming the first fifty pages I had to stop. Not because the story was unpalatable but due to my state of mind which at the time in question was dangerously unhinged. Mixing Zola’s epic expose of the ‘dark foundations of the human soul’ with my own morose delirium was plunging me deeper into the hole of horror into which I had dived as the most potent relationship of my life thus far, had disintegrated into a tornado of pain and betrayal…However, six months on, with my vitality and fervour to exist somewhat recovered I took a second stab at La Bete Humaine, this time flying through the three hundred and sixty six pages fully spellbound and absorbed by Zola’s magic…

The narrative centres on a society which lives and breathes a section of the French railway system. Focusing mainly on the Company’s employees the author brings to life the essence of train drivers, signalmen, firemen, conductors, and the faraway board of directors. Landscapes are painted in words with the skill of an impressionist canvass-artist who whilst at the top of his form, suddenly decided to swap his easel for a quill. The geography and ambience is brilliantly rendered throughout, giving the reader that much sought after feeling of being there, in the pages, as a silent observer of the corruption, bloodlust, infidelity and suffering which plagues and shapes the stories of the brutal Rombaud, the genetically disturbed Jacques Lanteau and co.

Zola took great care in elucidating to the mechanics of the railway system. The movement and engines of the trains, the hardships of existing in a world dominated by coal dust, grease and burning hot steam. Rather than diluting the thrust of this tale of Instinct v Civility, understanding the intricacies of reversing gears and coupling rods adds to the overall reading experience.

Brilliantly written. Definitely worth a pop for anyone with eyes and a half decent grasp of the English language…Especially interesting for those, like myself, who make little distinction between the clothed and unclothed beasts of this world.

‘Roubaud’s fury did not abate. As soon as it seemed to calm down a little it came back again at once, like drunkenness, in great, successive waves carrying him away on their swell. He was now quite beside himself, hitting out at the air, carried hither and thither by each squawl of the storm of violence lashing him, reduced now to the single need to appease the roaring beast within him. It was a physical, imperious need, like a hunger for vengeance twisting his guts which would give him no respite as long as he had not satisfied it….’

Zola, like his nephew Gianfranco, was possessed with pure genius…


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