10 February 2010

Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin lives a sheltered life in 19th century Paris, married to her spoiled, invalid cousin Camille and tending shop with her passive-aggressive mother-in-law. Her only joy comes on Thursday evenings when her husband's friend Laurent, a selfish, talentless slacker painter, comes by to visit. Swept off her feet by Laurent primarily because, well, primarily because he's not boring Camille, Therese slowly comes out of her self-imposed shell. When circumstances threaten to keep Therese and Laurent apart, the two become frantic and decide that there is only one way to stay together - murder. Camille is easily disposed of in an "accidental" drowning; the specter of his memory, however, is not so obliging to the murderers. Tormented by nightmares and driven to the brink of insanity with guilt, Therese and Laurent soon realize that Camille is far more a menace to their happiness as a corpse than he ever was while alive...

I first read about this book in an online interview with Kate Winslet. (I get book suggestions from the strangest places...) In the interview, Winslet was asked what her favorite novel was and why. She said Therese Raquin and the plot description piqued my interest. So me being a nosy sort, I just had to read this Emile Zola novel myself. Fortunately, Winslet did not let me down! (There's a reason she's one of my favorite actresses.) I loved Therese Raquin and couldn't wait to share it with you guys. Unfortunately, I had to put it on the backburner as a backup review, but this week when I am assaulted with tests and essays and lots of snow (Pity me! Pity me!) is the perfect chance to blog about this fascinating psychological revenge thriller.

This novel is a great read, because it is so intense! The plot is a little slow to begin with, specifically prior to Camille's murder, but once the dirty deed is done, the pacing and suspense are superb. Zola crafts a highly original "revenge" tale that is bone-chilling and addictive all the way up to the heart pounding finale. Therese and Laurent's guilt is realistic and their resulting comeuppance is both wickedly funny and somewhat heartbreaking. Zola intended this as a psychological character study; as a result, the book reflects a very keen understanding of the human mind. The plot is masterfully crafted, as well. The plot complications occur from the character's own actions, rather than artificial outside sources (ARGGH! A huge pet peeve of mine), and everything ties in perfectly.

I found this book quite readable, without the complex style that some find daunting in 19th century literature. I have read criticisms that complain that Zola's frequent repetition of certain words and phrases is monotonous; I think these critics are missing Zola's point. I believe Zola's word choice was a stylistic approach intentionally used to build a claustrophobic atmosphere that greatly adds to the suspense. The narration can be a bit vague at times, due to this, but Zola excels at creating an ominous atmosphere and rendering his characters' emotions authentically.

We've all read stories with similar plots to this - two lovers conspire to murder one's spouse. Rarely do these tales portray the emotions and aftereffects of these circumstances as well as this novel does. Therese Raquin is a powerful read that is diabolically plotted. This is a novel that will haunt you long after you are finished with it...not unlike Camille's corpse.


Next Week: Probably Davis Grubb's The Night of the Hunter. I guarantee nothing, though. I may hit you with some historical fiction, instead.


  1. Hmmmm sounds interesting, Zella.
    You know what I would be interested in, Zella; a blog about a book you didn't like. I mean, you can't like all books, can you? Do you not post on books you don't like, or...?
    All of this to say I wouldn't mind a negative post now and again. Not that you should be pessimistic about novels that you love by any means! ;)

  2. Scott, good question! It's funny that you ask that, because Penguins asked me the same thing last week. (Are you in league with each other?) :D

    Basically, I don't review books I dislike. I tried to do that this summer, and I just can't write an interesting post if I dislike the book. My heart is not in it. (That's what happens if I mention a book will be reviewed and it doesn't get reviewed. Like Golding's The Inheritors. I love Golding, but I couldn't get into that one and couldn't write a review on it.)

    I have liked some of the books I have posted on more than others, which I am sure you guys can tell from my tone. And I also do address whatever I dislike in a book when I do write a post, but I have decided I am not going to review books I don't like well enough to recommend. I feel like I would be wasting my time working on (and you guys' time reading) a post that was unfavorable. I would rather tell people about a book I liked and encourage them to read.

    Also, I know that even though I have a varied taste in literature just because I don't like something doesn't mean the book is not good. I don't like reading reviews where the reviewer makes fun of the book or is needlessly insulting, because I think it's unfair to the readers.

    The only exception is if a book is so mind-numbingly awful I feel that I have the duty to warn my readers... Then, yeah, I would post as my duty to save mankind. :D

  3. hey zella! i love this post! and now i really want to read this book! it sounds so interesting, and it's piqued my curiosity too. i think i might go out and buy it, or borrow it if i find it in my school ibrary.

    thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Lucy, you're welcome! It's a great read. Let me know what you think about it after you've read it. :)