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Therese Raquin


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This is the first Emile Zola book that I've read and I loved it.


I read the Robin Buss translation on Penguin Classics.


It was first published in 1867 and caused a sensation. I can see why.


It's a story about a young woman who grows up with a sickly boy and marries him, then goes on to have a passionate affair with his friend who, in collusion with the woman, kills her husband. The book then goes on to examine the psychological effects of the murder on both the woman and her lover, whom she subsequently marries. Even now, what's described is quite shocking and very realistic.


It reminded me of McBeth and Banquo's ghost a little but became so very much more than that. The prose is wonderful to read and Buss's translation (as far as I can tell!) flows very nicely.


As far as I understand it, this is one of the novels that is not included in the Rougon-Macquart series.


Highly recommended.

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Therese Raquin is married off to her aunt's son, Camille, an anemic hypochondriac endlessly spoiled by his doting mother. The marriage is thoroughly sexless and insipid. Camille's mother and Therese set up a shop in Paris while Camille gets a job at the rail company; there he meets an old friend, Laurent, an aspiring artists who paints Therese and pursues an affair with her. To continue their affair they must kill Camille and they drown him in the river (though he puts up a fight and bites Laurent on the neck).

Here begins their spiraling into madness, the paranoia, the guilt, the torment. Laurent begins to convince himself that Camille might not actually be dead while the scar on his neck, throbbing and pulsing, is a continual reminder of the crime they have committed. It is almost eating into his flesh. To make matters worse, Laurent and Therese don't even like each other very much yet persist in wanting to marry as a kind of justification for their actions. She was simply an unhappy woman while he merely wanted some sex. But in 1860s France, the moral code dictated that you couldn't simply have those things, couldn't get divorced and pursue casual encounters. And so this is the mess they find themselves in. But soon, they do marry and continue to live with Camille's mother who, after several strokes, becomes paralyzed. They argue in front of her, confess their crimes safe in the knowledge that she can do nothing about it. The guilt torments them, sends them both into insanity and plotting. Therese begs at the feet of her dead husband's silent mother. Laurent sees no way out.

Along with Crime & Punishment, this is one of the greatest literary explorations of guilt (and its capacity to torment individuals) I have ever read. These are two people who ostensibly just want to experience some pleasure and happiness but the chains of culture have stifled them into becoming self-hating monsters. Specifically Therese, a woman who, like her contemporaries, is doomed to experience the restrictions of social convention even more than men; which is presumably why the novel is named after her; she, more than anyone, is a victim of the age.



Edited by hux
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