A friend urges me to read Emile Zola's L'Assommoir, a novel. When I prepared to read it, I discovered it is part of a series of novels by Zola, perhaps like Balzac's series of novels and stories entitled The Human Comedy. My question, then, is whether I should go ahead and read L'Assommoir, or had I better read the series in order. This depends on both the series' overall quality, and on L'Assommoir's dependence on the other novels, or rather on the added value one stands to gain by reading the preceding novels first. Share your wisdom, friends.
bonus: A colleague at work, born and raised in France, helpmed me figure out the meaning of the title "L'Assommoir". It is, roughly, a blunt object one can whack people with. Perhaps it's comparable to the English word sap, in the sense of that leather bag filled with sand or something heavy, used as a legal cold weapon for self-defense by medieval merchants etc. Incidentally, I'd appreciate clarification of this term's exact meaning. But the bonus is this: as a high-school student, my colleague was made to read this and other novels by Zola. The running joke was that the book L'Assommoir is just that -- a blunt object you can whack people with... [grin]
update: the urging friend (who may join us here at LJ soon) reveals that "L'Assommoir is the neighborhood pub where everyone gathers to get a drink, and then they're so drunk, it's almost like they were hit on the head... THAT'S the meaning of this title..."