domingo, 17 de septiembre de 2017

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin (Gallimard, 2011)
by Émile Zola
France, 1867

Its über well known adultery-and-murder plotline notwithstanding, I naively read Thérèse Raquin expecting some sort of a pro forma workout on the nature of female desire but never expecting to thumb through the insalubrious pages of one of the doomiest of 19th century doom novels.  Silly me! Way weirder than expected roman classique, ze weirdness coming fast and furious once Laurent, who has just drowned his friend Camille in the Seine in order to make it easier for the murderer to bed down the fetching desperate housewife/willing accomplice to murder/brand new widow Thérèse, begins frequenting the Paris morgue to see if the dead man's body has finally been fished out of the drink.  Much page-turning luridness ensues.  Much, much page-turning luridness ensues.  Within the gruesome morgue chapter alone, for example, Zola treats us to the startling spectacle of decomposing bodies rotting before the reader's eyes and to the maybe even more sensational depiction of roving bands of twelve to fifteen year old boys who, stopping only in front of the female cadavers, make all sorts of crude remarks about the sex appeal of the dead women behind the display windows.  Having "learned vice at the school of death" ["ils apprenaient le vice à l'école de la mort"], it turns out, "c'est à la Morgue que les jeunes voyous ont leur première maîtresse" ["it's at the morgue where the young thugs have their first mistress"] (128).  Elsewhere, Zola is equally as in your face a purveyor of the prose poetry of revolt when describing how the aftereffects of their crime torment the murderous newlyweds on their eventual wedding night ("Thérèse et Lauren retrouvaient la senteur froide et humide du noyé dans l'air chaud qu'ils respiraient; ils se se disaient qu'un cadavre était là, près d'eux" ["Thérèse and Laurent recognized the cold and damp odor of the drowned man in the warm air that they were breathing; they told each other that a corpse was there in their midst"]) (189) and beyond ("Lorsque les deux meurtriers étaient allongés sous le même drap, et qu'ils fermaient les yeux, ils croyaient sentir le corps humide de leur victime, couché au milieu du lit, qui leur glaçait la chair" ["When the two murderers were stretched out under the same sheet with their eyes shut, they believed they could feel the damp body of their victim, prone in the middle of the bed, making their skin crawl"]) (205).  All this, a copious amount of hallucinatory overkill + a certain scratch and sniff dimension to the prose (cf. human remains likened to "greenish, eel-like" flesh ["pareil à un lambeau verdâtre"] or a room described as sporting "une fade senteur de cimetière" ["a faint whiff of cemetery"]) (205 & 218) leave me no choice but to marvel--Zola, what a sick puppy!

Émile Zola (1840-1902)

12 comentarios:

  1. What, weirdness, hallucinatory? Zola's just telling it like it is - straight arrow reporting, drawn from life, science - he says so in the Preface.

    Amazing how many people over the century and a half have taken that Preface seriously.

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    1. Zola might have had an easier time tripping me up if I had bothered to read that preface you mention. I was in a hurry and skipped ahead to the good stuff, though. May I assume, by the way, that the preface is a Flowers of Evil-like defense of the morality of the tale or some such? Whatever, thanks for the reminder as I ought to go back to it and see what trickeration Zola had in store for his readers.

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  2. Your review are so entertaining Richard. I love the word "doomiest".

    Such weirdness attracts me also.

    I really have to read Émile Zola.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Brian, but I must confess that I lifted "doomiest" from one of Tom's posts on Leonid Andreyev. That being said, the weirdness to be found in Thérèse Raquin is really something to behold. Quite envelope-pushing for its publication date if you ask me.

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  3. I read this ages ago but "doomiest" is spot on. It's so sordid.

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    1. Sordid's a good word for Thérèse Raquin. Of course, I was still riveted to the page because it's so accomplished aesthetically!

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  4. Love your review of this, Richard. It's been a while since I read TR, but the lurid quality of the story has stayed with me. You've succeeded in capturing something of the book here!

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    1. Thanks, Jacqui. It was a fun book to read/write about despite or maybe because of its over the top qualities, so I'm glad I at least didn't make it sound dull or anything!

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  5. I read this so long ago, and was not sufficiently impressed to remember it beyond comparing it to the likes of Madame Bovary, the later of which is my favorite after Anna Karenina. But Zola held me fascinated while I read. Now I have to go back and reread the Preface, and, thanks to you and Tom, pick up Effi Briest. Which was on another point altogether.

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    1. I can understand people preferring Madame Bovary to Thérèse Raquin, Bellezza. I thought the writing was top notch in both, though, and even though Zola's aims were likely different than Flaubert's, I think TR can be read as something of a dialogue with the earlier model. That being said, hope you enjoy Effi Briest!

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    1. Ha, I don't think you'll be disappointed then!

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