The Assommoir by Emile Zola
'in this life, even if you don't ask for much you still end up with bugger all!' In a run-down quarter of Paris, Gervaise Macquart struggles to earn a living and support her family. She earns a pittance washing other people's dirty clothes in the local washhouse, and dreams of having her own laundry. But in order to start her business she must incur debt, and her feckless husband cannot resist the lure of the Assommoir, the local bar that supplies all the working men with cheap spirits and absinthe. As her money troubles grow, so Gervaise's life begins to spiral out of control, and she is trapped in a vicious web of want and neglect. The Assommoir is a pivotal novel in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. In it he lays bare the terrible poverty of the Parisian underclass, living in overcrowded tenements, addicted to drink, a world of squalor, and casual violence. It contains some of Zola's most powerful and graphic writing, unforgettable portrayals of individuals and their environment, and the fine line between self-respect and ruin.