‘The Flood’ by Emile Zola

The Flood by Emile Zola, 1880

The magic trick:

Telling the story of death and destruction in painstaking and painful detail

Z is for Zola.

And D is for difficult read, as in D for Do Not read this story on a day when you’ve already reached your quota for sadness.

What a devastating story this is.

It recalls for me “The Pier Falls” by Mark Haddon, a story that recounts an imagined collapse of a large pier loaded with happy families on an otherwise summer day. Both stories thrive on detail, and both stories’ details are relentlessly tragic.

That approach certainly makes for something that is unpleasant to read, but it also creates a story that, once you’re invested, is impossible to set down and unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.

And that’s quite a trick on Zola’s part.

The selection:

“Is there no news up your way?” I asked him.

“No,” he answered. “There is considerable talk about the heavy rains of the last few days. Some seem to think that they will cause trouble.”

In effect, it had rained for sixty hours without stopping. The Garonne was very much swollen since the preceding day, but we had confidence in it, and, as long as it did not overflow its banks, we could not look on it as a bad neighbor.

“Bah!” I exclaimed, shrugging my shoulders. “Nothing will happen. It is the same every year. The river puts up her back as if she were furious, and she calms down in a night. You will see, my boy, that it will amount to nothing this time. See how beautiful the weather is!”

And I pointed to the sky. It was seven o’clock; the sun was setting. The sky was blue, an immense blue sheet of profound purity, in which the rays of the setting sun were like a golden dust. Never had I seen the village drowsing in so sweet a peace. Upon the tiled roofs a rosy tint was fading. I heard a neighbor’s laugh, then the voices of children at the turn in the road in front of our place. Farther away and softened by the distance, rose the sounds of flocks entering their sheds. The great voice of the Garonne roared continually; but it was to me as the voice of the silence, so accustomed to it was I.


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