Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Review published on September 25, 2017.

I purchased this book basically because I enjoy reading about France in the late 1800s, in particular Paris. I knew of the book already, Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, written in the early part of the 1860s. I had never got round to reading it until I recently spotted a copy on a shelf.

At the time of the book’s publication date, 1867, it had already been released as a serial in a French newspaper, and received its glowing recommendation as ‘putrid’ (Le Figaro). Thereon in, Emile Zola became more famous because of this notoriety. Not much seems to have changed since then with notoriety and scandal. One really has to adopt the persona of a Parisian, residing in the Belle Époque era in order to fully understand the narrative. For example, of taking a sharpened knife to a block of sugar, of daily drawing water, dirt, and disease being rife, and financial twists that we, in the 21st century, can no longer comprehend.

I loved this book as an historical statement really, although it has a rather strange way of explaining itself. Zola wanted to examine how temperament rather than character drives the story along. It is basically a love story in the classic mould, it has adultery, murder, and insanity within, so what more can one ask of a book?

Superbly written, although it tends to repeat itself often toward the ending, but this is how people’s minds normally function under duress, so there is little excuse for the repetition. There are a few descriptive paragraphs that are apparently true to life, for example, regularly visiting the morgue, this was a normal practice for many people back then evidently; this is another reason why I find books like this a somewhat fascinating history lesson.

I enjoyed this book a lot, perhaps others will too; although it is not a book of the modern day, it has resonance with modern life, it is just based in a different era. Think ‘Jack the Ripper’ shifting to Paris perhaps, but that might be an unfair comparison.

Reg Seward 5/3

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
Oxford World’s Classics 9780199536856 pbk Jul 2008

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