Friday, 25 January 2008

What Emile Zola Has to Say about Griffintown--and Other Urban Developments

Emile Zola’s The Kill (La Curée) was the book my reading friends discussed on Wednesday night. The second novel in his 20 novel series about one extended family in the middle of the 19th century, it is set against the great urban changes which took place when Napoléon III and Georges-Eugène Haussmann completely redid the center of Paris. The story is full of sex—we agreed that nothing like it could have been published in North America at the time—but the emotion that really dominates the story is greed. The major male character is a real estate developer who makes fortunes speculating in real estate, and who steals and then loses his wife’s dowry.

More details are coming out about the proposed redevelopment plan for one of the oldest sections of Montreal, Griffintown. Devimco, the motor behind the plan, has options on much land in the old industrial area, but doesn’t own very much. Nevertheless it is trying to get the city to agree to running a trolley line down to the neighborhood as well as many other concessions. Fortunes are going to made here too. The figures involved seem all very modern--the spokesman is a well-spoken, extremely sophisticated man in young middle age--but as Yogi Berra would say, It is déjà vu all over again.

Given the way the stories and situations that Zola write about have their echoes today it is no surprise the novelist is enjoying renewed popularity among Quebec young people: Rollande reported that when she bought her copy, the young man in line next to her told her how much he liked the book. Two bistros have recently opened in the trendier parts of Montreal which take their names from other novels in the series, L’Assommoir and La Bête humaine.

No comments: