Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin, Emile Zola – Guest review by Emer

This is a story of lust, murder and madness, set in Paris in a backstreet haberdashery shop where the ‘woodwork exuded damp from every crack’. The protagonist, Thérèse, has been forced into a marriage with her cousin, Camille – described as being in a ‘permanent state of feverish shivering’ – and lives out an oppressive existence, completely void of excitement, until Camille brings home a friend, Laurent, who is handsome and full-blooded, and so begins a torrid affair that leads to murder.

When it was published in 1868, the book was on the receiving end of fierce criticism, some seeing it as ‘putrid literature’ bordering on the pornographic, but this is too simplistic a notion and does not do justice to the brilliance of the novel as a study of neurosis brought on by violent passion and fear. We are told that Laurent feels no remorse for his actions but that his fear is purely physical, a feeling that the spectre of the dead man will rise up before him as a constant reminder of what he has done. Thérèse, of a more nervous disposition, has ‘vague feelings of remorse.’

What starts out as a passionate affair eventually leads both parties to rage and hatred for each other and the atmosphere becomes stifling. The book holds one’s attention brilliantly considering that there are only four main characters, but the writing is excellent and the feeling of claustrophobia is all pervasive. Definitely worth a second read, and a deterrent against having an affair!

Comments are closed.

COB Recommends
Looking for a good book to read? This is a selection of books we like. From just published to older publications to the classics, we're sure there's something here to tempt the bookworm within you.