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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on November 17, 2001
This novel employs a courtesan, Nana, to condamn the decadence of late 2nd Empire France (1852-1870). Arising from a family ravaged by alcoholism and abuse, the great beauty Nana becomes a celebrity in theatre and then as the mistress of the high aristocracy and bourgeous. At her core, she is a devourer, empty of anything but the will to suck whatever she can out of anyone who comes near. She ruins the fortunes of numerous men with frivolous demands for things she barely wants, and Zola in the process illuminates how they made their careers and were ruined by their appeites for this woman, who becomes an archetypal destuctive force. It is indeed a bleak and severe indictment of an entire society: you learn how celebrity worked in it, from the bottom up and back down again. Her sexuality is omnivorous, the men her willing victims for a mention in the Figaro gossip columns. (As Zola put, "les hommes suivent une chienne qui n'est pas en chaleur.")
Zola makes for fascinating reading, as does Balzac, for the wider tableau he paints. The writers are similar, except that Zola was a far more careful writer. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find any characters you can like or admire, which makes the cynicism and condamnations overbearing and hard to get through at times. There are numerous inventions in it that became classic, like "blond venus" and "golden fly". This adds to it as a glorious classic novel.
In a wider sense, this is one of the central novels in Zola's cycle on the "natural history" of an extended family, the Rougon-Macquart. It is based on a crude kind of Darwinist sociology, a kind of reasoning that was in its infancy when he wrote and which later culminated in Freud and Durkheim. THat is another level that is quite fascinating, a philosophical cycle of novels mixing biological science and Schopenauer, all deeply pessimistic and determinist.
Recommended, but it takes perserverence and a strong stomach to finish it.
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on March 19, 2006
"Nana", the exquisite novel by Emile Zola, being the ninth volume in his Rougon-Macquart cycle, is by far the one book that solidified M. Zola's reputation as a naturalist. His almost life-like prose that excells in evoking vast croud scenes and near-realistic settings make the novel so realistic that I felt I was right in front of the action taking place. The decadence of the Second Empire has been well portrayed by the courtesan Nana, a tart who swallows the wealth of the aristocrats who fall for her. The novel is also very symmetical with the rise and fall of Nana, depicting Nana the actress in the first past and the prostitute in the second. Written in clear prose, this work is A must read for all those lovers of 19th century french literature.
One advice: do NOT be misled by the words of cranks and scribblers who defame books so barbarously...they know NOTHING and are BLIND to good qualities of such works of art. Cameron Kennerdy is a such good-for-nothing that all must keep away from. Listen to me, a student of Bio-psychological Sciences and a patron of the arts.
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on May 18, 2014
Nana is the second Zola book I have read, The Belly of Paris was my first. You must be prepared to read as an artifact of the times though the social mores in some ways and in some parts of society, haven't changed all that much. Zola writes...and writes...and writes...and I longed for the ending though he is a good writer and managed to keep my interest to the last. I became interested in Zola because of references to the Dreyfuss affair in Tuckman's "Tower". I read him for its social commentary and attempts to change the way things were and it's absurd to accuse him of predictability. In both books, and I must assume all his work, he is a master descriptor - he can make you smell a room and see the colour of flowers or the diaphanous dress of Nana as she appears on stage as Venus. I attempted an experiment and after reading the English, took out my poor French skills and tried reading sections with the English as a reference. Kind of works! What I discovered is the English, though it is accurate, goes a little easy on the intensity of the French phrasing. I view it as part of my education but still an enjoyable read....mostly.
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on November 27, 2002
In "Nana", Nana's lovers were:
1. A respectable count
2. His elderly father-in-law
3. A Jewish banker from Frankfurt
4. An actor from "la Variete" theater
5. A count (different from the afore-mentioned) who earns/squanders his fortune on horse races
6. Two brothers (one serves in the army, the other is just a teenage libertine)
7. A provincial cousin of the undermentioned "Figaro" columnist
8. A member of the British royalty
9. Another courtesan
It is described how most of them end up in the last paragraph of chapter XIII.
Other important participants of this love polygon were:
11. A cynical "Figaro" journal columnist
12. A pimp who employs his own wife as a prostitute
13. Numerous women who earn their living the same way Nana does
The novel is very loosely tied with the Rougon-Macquart family tree. We only know (from chapter II) that both of Nana's parents are already dead and all throughout the novel Nana does not get in any contact with her three half-brothers. Only in chapter X, when Nana entertains her guests, she talks a little about her background. However, to find out where Nana came from, one must read "L'Assommoir/the Drum Shop".
Some think that the novel is exaggerated almost to the point of grotesque. But the truth is that it is not; it gives an honest portrayal of the French society late under Napoleon III. "Nana" (especially chapter XIV) serves as a great prelude to the novel "la Debacle/the Downfall", though the two are completely different from one another in theme and the former was published in 1880 and is #9 in the R.-M. cycle, whereas the latter was published in 1892 and is #19 in the R.-M. cycle.
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on June 10, 1999
I read this book and felt it was a scathing satire on the way people can take something of little intrinsic value and "market" it, elevating ti to a place of veneration it should never have.
Nana is an actress who really can't act or sing, but she is beautiful. She isn't particularly intelligent or deep and isn't moral. Yet, she is persued by men, becomes the toast of the town, becomes rich and successful, has a brilliant career and active love life.
One by one, Nana destroys those around her almost without intention. The last scene in which we see the foreshadowings of the end of an age, is the subtle bit of sulphuric acid satire that is also a keen observation on what happens to civilization when it's members value the wrong things. Brilliant as satire and moral fable!
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on March 8, 2008
With l'Assommoir, the best novel by Zola. This story of a young courtisane who breaks all rich men's hearts is a metaphor for the revenge of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Nana avenges the poor in her own way, she never forgets her origins (and they won't let her forget), and that is what will be her downfall, eventually.
I also highly recommend the TV miniseries 'Nana' with Véronique Genest, broadcast in the 80's (available on You'll agree that generally, film adaptations of novels are disappointing, in that case it's not. The adaptation is brilliant and perfectly captures the novel's atmosphere; the actress Veronique Genest incarnates a wonderful Nana, very faithful to the essence of the character.
But read the novel first!
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on March 28, 2002
How does this woman keep all her lovers' names straight? She manipulates men, and a few women, with sex (or the threat of sexual denial) to take all she can get from Paris high society, ruining everyone who succombs to her "sensuous curves and marble like skin" She gains plenty of material goods from her numerous lovers, even a beautiful apartment in Paris and a manor in the provinces. But she is never able to gain the two things she desires most from Parisian high society: their respect and an equal place among them. No matter how hard she tries to rise above her humble birth as a laundress' daughter (l'assommoir) she is never looked upon as anything more than a courtesan
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on September 7, 1999
No drugs, no rock 'n' roll but plenty of sex. Great entertainment in itself, this book is best read as a sequel to "L'Assommoir" whose tragic downtrodden heroine can be said, in a way, to have got her revenge on society through her daughter, Nana. You might say it's a case of the underclass striking back and one wonders how today's acting and modelling scene compares with Second Empire Paris. Someone once said that every woman is sitting on a gold mine and Nana certainly proves it. Trouble is, she also proves the old saying "easy come, easy go". What would have happened if she'd been inoculated against smallpox?
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on October 22, 2008
The story takes place during the second empire of France, and it is a familiar one. Nana, a teenage prostitute, makes a stunning debut in the theater (Les Varietes) and soon becomes a sought after commodity. However, the power of her attraction to men proves self-destructive to all who fall under her charms. One after the other the lives of these men get caught up in the whirlwind of Nana's desire for comsumption and living, a whirlwind that leaves these men in ruination. The book is remarkable for the vivid portrait of these times and the people that brought such life to them. I absolutely loved this book.
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on January 10, 2000
Zola presents us with the omnipotence of debauchery.
Nana is empowered by the elusiveness of the respect that she craves. This sends her on a mission to revel in her debauchery and destroy the value placed upon material objects. She harnassess her sexuality to reduce people to mere possessions to be used and discarded at her leisure.
It's her game, the stakes are high and she makes the rules.
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