The Pinnacle of French novels

I picked up a gem in the bookshop yesterday, called Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. Now usually I don’t go for French novels (not to mention films) because most of them are not to my taste as they are rife with sex and sexual imagery, which becomes prosaic. Anyway I decided to give Therese Raquin a chance because I had never heard of the author and let me just say I am VERY glad I decided to give him a chance as it has become one of the best novels I have ever read.

Therese Raquin tells the story of a young woman, unhappily married to her first cousin by an overbearing aunt who may seem to be well-intentioned but in many ways is deeply selfish. Her cousin, Camille, is sickly and selfish, and when the opportunity arises, Thérèse enters into a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of Camille’s friends, Laurent. Now I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but lets just say it has EVERYTHING- sex, murder, adultery, passion, suicide and love.

The sexual scenes in the book were very brief and did not detract from the story. Also I find it really intresting that although the sex scenes in Therese Raquin would be considered as very mild by todays standards when the book was published in 1968, it was considered outrageous and condemned as pornography (oh how times have changed!).

Anyway what makes this book really speacial is that it makes you THINK, which is the best kind of books in my opinion. This book not only makes you questions yourself but human nature itself. The two main characters Therese Raquin and Laurent are ruled by such animalistic passions- you start to question what really seperates us from the primitive animals out there? When we look at these two characters the answer seem to be: very little. The two characters are like primitive animals and seem to have animal instincts- in the fact that, when they want something they, like animals, just take it without thinking of the consequences.

I don’t want to give too much of the book away in case you decide to read it for yourself anyway it is a MUST read and will be kept on my book shelf for all time.

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7 Responses to The Pinnacle of French novels

  1. Since Zola died in 1902, I guess Thérèse Raquin was published in 1868.
    I don’t see how French novels are “rife with sex”, especially the ones from the 19th century.

    • I did not allude specifically to books written in the 19th century, I meant French novels in general. Although it is more frequent in French novels in the seventies but I do find that even before that period French novels are very casual about including sex and even though society at the time acted shocked about it and the novels were publicly condemmened; they were also widely read and best-sellers. Anyway the French novels I’ve come across, which are “rife with sex” to name a few are: “Madame Bovary” by Flaubert, “Eden, Eden, Eden” by Guyotat, The story of O etc.

    • highaspirations says:

      Thanks for reading my blog:)

  2. I understand better. Out of the three novels you cite, two are pornographic novels. You know, in France, if a book is forbidden to people under 18, it must include really raw sex.
    Sex is not explicit in Madame Bovary but more explicit than say in Jane Eyre, that’s for sure.
    But you’ve raised an interesting question. I’m thinking about writing a post about this, now.

    • Maybe its just me because the French ones I seem to pick out all are about sex sex sex. And although some of them might not be explicit for modern day readers, it is in terms of what you expect in a novel written at that time. Ps. There is absolutely no sex at all in Jane Eyre:)

  3. Yes there is sex in Jane Eyre, even if it’s not sexual intercourse. There is more sex in Jane Eyre or The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall than in Pride and Prejudice. But I agree, there is less sex in these novels than in Confession of a Child of the Century by Musset, which was written at the same time.

    • Ah, I thought we were talking about actual sexual intercourse. I love everything written by the Bronte sisters! and I see what you are saying Jane Eyre does certainly allude to sex and Pride and Prejudice is very tame (not even a kiss shared between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth!) nice talking to you 🙂

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