As New Year’s resolutions go, vowing to read all twenty volumes in Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle isn’t the hardest one I’ve ever undertaken; that would be 2016’s “wash the dishes as I go and hit the hay with a clean kitchen” resolution—and of course, everyone knows that’s impossible. I made it to like January 11; it was foolish to even try it.
But the Zola resolution is definitely my longest ongoing resolution; I made it four years ago and I’m at the exact halfway-point, having finished ten of the novels. It’s not as heavy as it sounds; they move along fleetly, and if you’re willing to pretend that you know what the hell went on with the short-lived French Second Republic, they whiz by. Hot tip: you’d do well to just say “uh-oh” and start skimming anytime someone starts rabble-rousing and polishing a musket.
But! I am not going to tell you that you should try and do this. Not even I have the nerve to boss you into reading twenty novels translated from the French. No, not when there’s a spectacular BBC Radio 4 audio series called Blood, Sex and Money.
Each episode is a lively dramatization of one of the twenty novels in the cycle (the separate book titles have been stripped off and the books have been grouped thematically by the three words in the series title—if you’ve read them, the order is off, but it makes sense this way too; they all intertwine, but you do not need to know the plot of one to dive into another). There’s an episode guide here.
They’re impeccably produced like old-time radio (including sound effects), and almost embarrassingly well cast: Anna Maxwell-Martin, Samuel West . . . even Glenda Jackson shows up to basically just Glenda Jackson all over the place, and almost every voice (in a cast of tens!) provokes a “Hey, I know that voice!” response.
It’s almost twenty-four hours long, but each episode flies by and let’s face it: you spent half that amount of time watching that barbecued ribs show I went on about, so you can do this too. Dive in and get back to me in four years. Vive la France!
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