Monday, 9 January 2012

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (3.5/5)

The back says: The immediate success which Thérèse Raquin enjoyed on publication is 1868 was partly due to scandal, following the accusation of pornography; in reply Zola (1840 – 1902) defined the new creed of Naturalism in the famous preface which is printed in this volume. The novel is a grim tale of thriller and, as Leonard Tancock says in his introduction, a cautionary tale on the sixth and seventh commandments, this early work of Zola’s full of black macabre poetry which has kept its tragic power for over a century.
I say: I always find it amusing reading books that created some sort of scandal back when they were written because to me they often seem so tame – and Thérèse Raquin was no exeption. That little synopsis doesn’t really say much about what happens, and since I’m unable to re-tell anything without spoilers, I’m going to try do it with as few as possible.
Thérèse Raquin grows up with her aunt and sickly nephew Camille after being left in their care by her father. When they are of age they marry – Thérèse out of obligation to the family. The aunt owns a shop where she and Thérèse work, while Camille goes off to work in an office. There is no love between them, so when Camille’s friend Laurent turns up at the house, she falls for him and they begin an affair. After some time they realize that in order to be together they have to kill Camille, and
dun dun dun.
I think I liked bits of this. It’s been a week since I finished it and my most distinct memories are of the atmosphere. Zola manages to create on in which you constantly feel that something is about to happen, and even though you know exactly what will happen, you’re still somewhat surprised when it does.
Because it’s so predictable and therefore shouldn’t happen.
At least that’s how I felt.
I don’t really have that much to say about any of the characters because I didn’t like any of them. At all. Thérèse was annoying, Camille was rather insipid, and Laurent was such a stereotypical “lover” that he actually bored me – none of them were anything new. While I was reading it I found myself impatient because there was so much shilly shallying. In a way, that’s what Thérèse and Laurent were feeling towards each other by the end of the book, and Zola conveyed that emotion perfectly.
As much as I enjoyed Zola’s writing, there were a few instances of longwindedness and rather trite and predictable dialogue. And then on the other hand, there were times when I was so mesmerised and lost in the story that I wanted it to go on forever.
It was all very uneven.  
I’m not even going to comment on the whole pornography and whatnot because there’s no such content in this – well, not by today’s standards. The disturbing parts of this novel have nothing to do with sex.  
So yeah, 3.5/5 to my first, and so far only read of the year (my Christmas present to myself was the DVD box set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I'm a nerd like that) and I’ve been lost in Sunnydale all week; what with being ill with brain fever and all. I’m on Season 5 (out of 7) so I should be back to reading by the weekend - I miss it).


  1. 3.5 out of 5 is still a good rating. I like the sound of it.

    Enjoy Buffy and feel better soon.

  2. Yeah, it was hard rating it since I loved some parts and didn't like other. It's definately worth a read, so go for it.

    And thanks, but my brain fever is gone now, so more work and less buffy. Ugh.