Sunday, June 21, 2009

Doom-Laden Masterpiece (Book Review) by Alison Ross

Emile Zola is not exactly known for his sprightly upbeat tales. Most of his ouvere is marked by plots that are densely detailed and almost lugubriously doom-laden.

His Masterpiece (L'Oeuvre) is no different. Actually, in a startling twist, the tale starts out in an uncharacteristically lively manner. But, of course, true to form, the latter half of the book becomes mired in gloom so cumbersome we are sunk under the immense weight of it. And yet, there is a tantalizing element to this heavy glumness, as though we humans really do revel in the misery of others, as that cherished axiom insists.

His Masterpiece is purportedly based on the painter, Manet, and Zola's friendship with him. According to reports, Manet was so incensed at Zola's portrayal of himself that he broke off the friendship.

One can surely empathize with Manet's stern disapproval of Zola's presentation of him. Claude, the painter protagonist, meant to represent Manet, is not someone most of us would gleefully befriend. Claude becomes so relentlessly obsessed with executing a masterpiece that everyone and everything around him suffers gravely. All becomes forebodingly consumed in the vortex of Calude's artistic compulsion.

But notwithstanding the ruthlessly morose tone of the novel, the story is boundlessly intriguing for its meticulous scrutiny of art world politics. Zola is notable for cleaving very closely to realism in his novels, and His Masterpiece is no exception. The examination of the political milieu of the art world, coupled with the story’s focus on the often agonizing and sometimes ebullient process of producing a painting, make it a feverishly gripping read indeed, especially if you, like me, devour art rapaciously and are staggered by the brilliance of the world’s most celebrated painters.

Emile Zola once said: “You ask me what I came here to do, and I will tell you: I CAME TO LIVE OUT LOUD.”

Clearly Zola lived up to his own slogan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vive Emile!