Imagine if Dostoyevsky had spent a year or two knocking around Penge. Or if Balzac had sojourned in Stoke Poges. If those great European novelists seem out of place in a provincial English setting, you’ll get a flavour of the comedy and poignancy of Émile Zola: The Upper Norwood Years, as Michael Rosen’s new book could have been called bit wasn’t.
The former Children’s Laureate and presenter of Radio Four’s Word of Mouth joins me in this week’s podcast to discuss The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case, which describes the true story of how the great novelist, on the run from the French authorities in 1898, spent a year living in suburban south London moaning about the food, fretting about his future, and negotiating his unconventional relationships with his wife and mistress.
It’s a fascinating study of a writer in crisis, a rich glimpse of the texture of day-to-day life in London at the end of the nineteenth century, and opens a window onto the febrile politics of France at the time. Do give it a listen:
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