We're in Paris in the 1860s. Paris is a boom town. We're hanging out with the super rich.
I'm about forty pages in. Nothing much has happened yet, except that Zola has described the hell out of a ride in the park, the big mansion we ended up at and the lavish party we found ourselves attending. I'm still not really sure who the people I'm attending it with are supposed to be, except that they're stepmother and stepson. I think they may have a thing going on, but I'm not sure.
Evelyn Waugh would have been halfway through the story by now.
Zola is crying out for the cinema to be invented. He's longing to be Lucino Visconti.
On the other hand, while a quick pan- even a lingering pan- across the facade of the mansion would have told us exactly what it looked like, Zola's paragraphs, with their piling up of detail, convey- as nothing else could- the sheer gaudy, relentless, tasteless showiness of the thing. The excess of the descriptive writing mirrors the excess of the thing described. Zola doesn't have to tell us how much he detests these people, it's all there in the detail. To see all is to know all. Minute attention to the surface will give you the depths. No writer had ever seen things as minutely as Zola sees them. He sees them to death.