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London, 1888: Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of Whitechapel; national strikes and social unrest threaten the status quo; a grave economic crisis is spreading across the Atlantic . . . Yet Her Majesty’s government is preoccupied with “a mere book” – or rather, a series of books: new translations of the Rougon-Macquart saga by French literary giant Émile Zola.

In his time, Zola made his British contemporaries look positively pastoral; much of his work is considered shocking and transgressive even now. But it was his English publisher who bore the brunt of the Victorians’ moral outrage at Zola’s “realistic” depictions of striking miners, society courtesans and priapic, feuding farmers.

Seventy years before Lady Chatterley’s Lover broke the back of British censorship, Henry Vizetelly’s commitment to publishing Zola, and to the nascent principle of free speech, not only landed him in the dock and thereafter in prison, but brought to ruin to the publishing house he had founded. Meanwhile, Zola was going from strength to strength, establishing his reputation as a literary legend and falling in love with a woman half his age.

This lively, humorous and ultimately tragic tale is an exploration of the consequences of translation and censorship which remains relevant today for readers, publishers and authors everywhere.


This is as ingenious and authentic an example of the fictionalisation of history as any I have ever read
Stevie Davies, The Independent
As ingenious and authentic an example of the fictionalisation of history as any I have read. It weaves its sources - court records, Hansard, letters, journalism - into a believable whole, with irony, pathos and humour . . . We feel, as we read Horne's account, as if we're present
Steve Davies, Independent
Horne has written an infinitely enjoyable and irreplaceable book, not only about Zola and his English publisher, their lives and times, but also about the precepts and principles of all writing, as well as about the need to reassess our perception of and attitudes to how books become objects of desire: about the thrill or cult of marketing
Mika Provata-Carlone, Bookanista
A fascinating account
Irish Examiner