The Kill is the second volume in Emile Zola's cycle of twenty novels that through the fortunes of one family explores the ways in which human behaviour is determined by heredity and environment.
The setting moves from the Provencal town of Plassans to Paris during the years 1852 - 1862. Having established himself as Napoleon III, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte set in action a policy of modernisation and under the administration of Haussmann great numbers of buildings were torn down and thousands of people evicted to make way for the long straight boulevards, parks and grand mansions of the 'new Paris.'
The title La Curee/The Kill refers to a hunting term - the part of an animal fed to the hounds that have run it to ground.
" This was the time when the rush for spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. the appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sound of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in six months. the city had become an orgy of gold and women. Vice, coming from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread out over the ornamental waters, shot up in the fountains of the public gardens, and fell on the roofs like fine rain. At night, when people crossed the bridges, it seemed as if the Seine drew along with it, through the sleeping city, all the refuse of the streets, crumbs fallen from tables, bows of lace left on couches,, false hair forgotten in cabs, banknotes that had slipped out of bodices, everything thrown out of the window by the brutality of desire and immediate satisfaction of appetites."Having inherited his parents lust for money Aristide Rougon arrives in Paris 'with the ravenous hunger of a wolf' determined to make his fortune. His brother Eugene persuades him to change his name to Saccard and finds him a job at City Hall where, by keeping his eyes and ears open he discovers the plans for the rebuilding of the city but it isn't until his first wife dies that he is able to dive into the world of property speculation.
Aristide's widowed sister, Sidonie, a wheeler and dealer in peoples secrets and scandals brings him together with a young woman who is pregnant following a rape. The marriage to Renee is a business investment - she keeps her reputation and he has her dowry to spend. In no time they are living in luxury, separate lives, as Aristide makes money and Renee spends it. Lonely and bored her closest companion is Maxime, her stepson.......' delicate and corrupt, lascivious - a defective offspring in whom parental shortcomings were combined and exacerbated.' Their relationship eventually becomes a love affair as they sink deeper into a life of debauchery and depravity.
As in The Fortune of the Rougons most of the characters are appalling people although, despite her terrible behaviour, I did have some sympathy for Renee who seemed very much to be a victim of her environment.
The Kill is a scathing indictment of the excesses of the Second Empire and Zola doesn't mince words. His descriptive prose is incredible, powerful and intense it brings people and places vividly to life.....and often left this reader having to take a break and breath fresh air.
I am loving the Rougon-Macquart novels and look forward to the next one.