Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read]

I read The Sin of Abbé Mouret for the first time three years ago, in Zoladdiction 2018. If you want to know what the story's about, you can click the link above, which will bring you to my first posts of the book. On this second post, therefore, I will talk less about the story, but dig deeper onto the nature-vs-church theme, and Zola's own aim on writing this book.

Only on this second read did I see how this book plays an important role on Zola's Naturalism. If you are curious about Naturalism as literary movement, this book will throw you some lights. Naturalists hold on the power of Nature as supreme, and distrust any institution that (they think) restrain it - Church (and religion) is one of these, though I don't see why they thought so, while the Bible (Book of Genesis) says that men are created by God to manage the earth and everything in it. Of course I realize that the 19th century Catholic Church held different views from our modern Church (maybe after the Second Vatican Council in 1962? - I'm not sure - but I know that the Council did bring huge change on the Church). Nature and Church should not have been separated.

Zola's hatred of clerics
I think Zola's hatred of Church might have been, first, triggered by its clerics. There are two kinds of clerics in this book: The pious, calm Abbé Serge Mouret who denounces physical pleasure which he believes hindering him to the utmost communion with God; and the coarse, hypocrite, cruel Brother Archangias with his love of worldly pleasure, and hatred of women. Did Zola make Abbé Mouret "triumphed" over temptation and sin at the end as a warning to the Church of France? That it should be concerning its "own business", i.e. religion and morality, rather than interfering in politics and state business?

Zola's second reason of hating priests is perhaps related to his believes in procreation and fertility. He hated celibacy and might regard it as unnatural. But I think he's overreacting here. How many priests were there compared to the whole population? So what if few of them chose celibacy? It won't make any significant change...

What I still didn't get is, if Zola disliked the Church that much, why did he make it triumphed in the end? Abbé Mouret finally conquered his weaknesses, Albine was chocked to death by the nature, and the church, though in dilapidated condition, was still intact. Again, this book might have served as a warning to France, because Zola believed that the Church was opposed to procreation and science (and therefore against nature), so naturally it should or will one day crumble. It shows how Zola, despite his meticulous researches on the Church (the Sacrament, rituals, devotion, etc.), and his vivid portrayal of Abbé Mouret's spiritual struggles (you'd think he experienced it himself); he understood nothing about religion, or particularly, Catholicism. It's a shame that one so genius in writing, could not or refused to see beyond his own principles. I mean, one can disagree with some views other than one's belief, but at least one should tolerate others who believe in it.

Ironically, Zola's vivid portrayal of Serge's spiritual journey has been a sort of inspiration for me. It reminds me to never be proud of my spiritual "achievement" (whatever it is), since we will never be free of temptation. The more we think we are holy/pious, the bigger be the risk of temptation. And that's what made me love Zola. His principles might be far different from mine, but he's so dedicated to his writing, that he could inspire others to hold on a principle that is the very opposite of what he might originally want to aim. If I hadn't known Zola, and this is my first book of his, I might have thought he's a devout Catholic!

So how do I think about The Sin of Abbé Mouret after the second read? Let me see...
- The neverending description of the Mass is boring! It feels like after compiling tons of information about it, Zola'd thought: 'I might as well use it all - not gonna wasting my efforts!' - I am a devout Catholic, but reading it all like encyclopedia is really tedious.
- Abbé Mouret's spiritual journey to true repentance is inspiring.
- This is the best story that explains Naturalism as a movement.

After weighing all aspects, here is my final rating (and thus changed my previous) : 3,5 / 5

Monday, April 19, 2021

Classics Club Spin #26 Lucky Number Is....


The Classics Club has picked the lucky number of 11, and it means I get to read...

One of Ours by Willa Cather

I'm so excited because next month I'll be reading two Willa Cather's in a row... for the whole month! In case you have not read my earlier post, I have planned to read My Antonia for May, then one more book for the #CCSpin. And how lucky I am that it picked another Cather's which I have also listed for the Spin!

One of Ours is the novel which won Willa Cather a Pulitzer Prize in 1923, so it must be a wonderful one. And hey.... isn't the cover of my copy also wonderful?! <3

So, what do you get for the Spin? Are you excited too? Anyway... have fun!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Chronologically, Murder in Mesopotamia is considered the prequel of The Murder on the Orient Express, and indirect sequel to The Mystery of the Blue Train. Hercule Poirot is on a trip to Iraq, when he is summoned to investigate a murder at an archeological site at Tell Yamimjah in Iraq.

The story is told from the point of view of Amy Letheran, a professional nurse who was hired by Dr. Erich Leidner - head of the excavation work - to attend to his beautiful wife Louise, who is lately jumpy and nervous. Now, Louise Leidner is something of a character. Nurse Amy found that the ladies dislike her, but the men adore her. However they mostly agree that Louise Leidner is a self-centered woman; seeking attention by hallucinating that she is in some danger.

Efficient and kind, Nurse Amy immediately gains trust from her 'patient'. Mrs. Leidner confides in her, her secret past. Louise was actually a widow before marrying Dr. Leidner. Her first husband was a possessive man called Frederick Bosner, who was a spy during the Great War. He was sentenced to death, managed to escaped, but later died in a train crash. After his death, Louise often got anonymous threat letters every time she's attracted to a man. Is it her husband, who somehow survived from the train crash, or is it his younger brother who also had a crush on her? She isn't sure, but she is in constant fear.

After Leidner married her, the threats stopped, but for a moment. Louise began to receive the letters again a few months ago, along with 'other horrors' (apparitions which nobody else saw). Is she hallucinating, or whether whoever has been threatening her, has come to take avenge? Is that why the atmosphere in the site grew tensed lately - as if there's a forced politeness around these people (Leidner's collegeaus and crews) who, normally, are like a little family? Then one day Dr. Leidner found his wife alone in her room, struck dead by a heavy unknown object.

Hercule Poirot finds the case as an interesting one; he finds neither alibi nor motif related to the victim. Therefore, he focused his investigation on the psychological side - the strong character of Louise Leidner, and particularly, her past.

Murder in Mesopotamia is one of Poirot's case, in which, the key to the murder-case is in the psychological side. While in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Curtain, the key is in the murderer's, in this case, it's the victim's. And for me, these are the most interesting cases. Clues, alibi, motif - we can find these in most of detective-crime stories, but not many crime writers put the emphasize on the psychological side. From the few, Agatha Christie is one of the best. This one, now, becomes one of my most favorites.

Rating : 5/5

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Classics Club's CC Spin #26

Classics Club Spin is back! And about time too! After the usual hectic of the first four months of the year (not mentioning the two reading events that I'm hosting this year), I really need a refreshing kick to calm my nerve and to be back to my usual reading vigour.

What is CC Spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 18th April, 2021, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

On Sunday 18th, April, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 31st May, 2021.

And here's my list:

1. My Antonia - Willa Cather
2. Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy
3. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
4. Watership Down - Richard Adams
5. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
6. Elizabeth and Her German Garden - Elizabeth von Arnim
7. The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton
8. Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
9. Eugenie Grandet - Honore de Balzac
10. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
11. One of Ours - Willa Cather
12. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
13. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
14. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
15. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
16. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
17. The Imitation of Christ - Thomas A Kempis
18. The Scarlett Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
19. Red Pony - John Steinbeck
20. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch

Some of the list are from my 2021 Reading Schedule. I will definitely read no. 1 in May anyway, so any number I'd get, I will read it alongside My Antonia. But if no. 1 gets picked, then I'm lucky! :)

Do you join CC Spin too? Is there any title you expect me to get, or is in your list too?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Okonkwo is a young man of Igbo ethnicity who lives in Umuofia village in Nigeria in the late 19th century. He grew up witnessing his lazy and cowardly father brought disgrace to the family, so it's no wonder that he becomes a fierce and strong warrior with toxic masculinity. Okonkwo resents weaknesses and femininity, beats his wives and children, to show off his manliness (and I think to convince himself that he is the very opposite of his father.)

One day the Umuofia clan took a boy, Ikemefuna, as a "settlement" (the boy's father has killed an Umuofia's woman), and selected Okonkwo as the guardian. He gets to like the boy, while worrying for his son's (Nwoye) lack of manliness. Unfortunately, the clan then decided to kill Ikemefuna due to an Oracle. An elder chief warned Okonkwo not to participate in the murder, as it would be like murdering his own son. But Okonkwo ignored it, so as not to be regarded weak by his people.

After the murder, Okonkwo's life turns from bad to worse. Things begin to go wrong, and Okonkwo and the whole family are eventually exiled by his people. At the time of the Okonkwos' return to Umuofia, their land has changed. White missionaries had been coming to introduce Christianity, and slowly but surely changed the whole society. One of the first converts is Nwoye, Okonkwo's own son, who had never forgiven his father for killing his best friend Ikemefuna, and who is more inclined to Christian's teaching than his people's violent way of life. Okonkwo bitterly sees how his people do not hold on to their tradition as tight as he, and begin to embrace a new one; he sees that his world is changing, and things fall apart.

Things Fall Apart is not an entertaining read. I do love reading about foreign cultures - and Achebe's writing is flowing beautifully in telling the story - so I really enjoyed the earlier part of this book. I disliked Okonkwo's toxic masculinity, but I sympathized with his disappointment on his father, and how he worked hard to dispel the bad "legacy". I understood that Okonkwo is shaped by his society. However, my sympathy's gone when he committed the murder. To let his people do it without fight from his side is cruel enough (but still understandable considering their views), but committed the crime with his own hand... I just can't! I lost my respect for the main protagonist of the book I'm reading, so what remains?

Besides the women, Obierika (Okonkwo's friend and neighbor) is the only one character I can stand. He's the neutral voice of the book, the common sense. He considers, reasons, questions their tradition, he sees beyond their little world, and does not think something is right just because the "oracle" said so.

Moral of the story:
✔Changes aren't always bad, as we never know what might happen in the future.
✔Better use our common sense and consider everything proportionately.
✔When change is inevitable, embrace it wisely, or we'll get "extinct".

Considering all aspect, here is my rating:

3,5 / 5

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021: Master Post

It's April! And it means Zoladdiction 2021 begins this very day! 

This is the 8th Zoladdiction I have hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with, Zoladdiction is an annual reading event during the month of April, to celebrate the birthday of Emile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works.

As usual, we will read Zola's works, or works about Zola during the month, and of course, to share our thoughts (or anything related to Zola) to the world.

A formal sign up does not really required for participating, just let me know that you're in. And please tag or mention me on Twitter, or just leave a comment here, whenever you post anything for Zoladdiction. That way I can share/tweet/retweet it.

Now, let the fun begins....