“Thérèse Raquin” by Émile Zola (1867) – book review

One of the few books I have read three times –first as a fairly impressionable student, then in my early far-flung thirties and now recently again once I reluctantly hit the 50 mark and the point of no return.

I always so admire people who regularly revisit books, but confess this is rarely what happens this end, because there is always just so much unexplored terrain left to peruse. Which is all wrong, really, because your reading of a book changes so much depending on when you read or reread it – and although it sounds trite, it’s so true that there are certain tomes you could/should re-read year on year, and could rest assured that they merely improve with age (shame same could not be said about self).

Back to Thérèse and her blighted affair with that sexy brute, Laurent, who sweeps the heroine (?) off her feet and encourages her to cavort with ever greater abandon under the watchful yet unsuspicious eyes of the not at all sexy Camille and mother-in-law of all mother-in-laws, Mme Raquin. Needless to say, all that unfettered passion is going to lead nowhere good, and as the plot unfolds Zola manages to drive home some of the less attractive qualities of human nature and the problems of conscience that can play tricks on the psyche when there is inevitably ‘trouble at mill’.

I don’t find Zola such an easy author. Still determined to make further inroads into his massive Rougon-Macquart series – struggled to enjoy “Nana” but oh so keen to restart for the Nth time “Au Bonheur des Dames” and “L’Oeuvre”, seems madness not to, n’est-ce pas, just wish I’d done better years back when I had more energy…

But this particular book is one of my utter favourites of all time. Back when I was 20 I was literally carried away by the passionate awakening of Thérèse after those early years of her monotonous union with damp Camille; now I again quiver at the very last page of the novel and the depiction of Mme Raquin, by now mute, paralysed and reduced to being a mere bystander – but Zola gives her unblinking regard such power! It’s absolutely outstanding. No peeking at the back if you do pick the book up for the first time, s’il vous plaît.

P.S. Was suitably thrilled to get tickets for the stage play at the Theatre Royal in Bath while we were passing through last summer, and was positively overexcited to find out that Mme Raquin was to be performed by one of my absolutely favourite actresses of all time, Alison Steadman. The Offspring and I really did enjoy the drama, and managed to jump out of our seats more than once at some of the ghostly apparitions that haunt the lovers’ sleepless nights, but I did feel thwarted by the fact that the production chose to make ma-in-law so much more likeable than her chippy matriarchal self in the novel. More Mrs Bennett than Mme Raquin, in fact. Shame – but still dead exciting to see Mrs Steadman in the flesh, as it were.

Re-read Summer 2014.

Rating : 10/10 – A FAVOURITE BOOK

Images taken from here and here.
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One Response to “Thérèse Raquin” by Émile Zola (1867) – book review

  1. Julie says:

    Isn’t it great when a favourite book can be followed through to a film or a play. Very satisfying. Especially in this case with an actress you admire in one of the roles.

    Liked by 1 person

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