Book No 16 (2014) : Thérèse Raquin

raquinI must have read hundreds of books in my lifetime (maybe more? I feel a bit of maths coming on!) but for some reason, scenes from ‘Thérèse Raquin’ come back to me quite regularly. I have no idea why, other than perhaps it’s because I studied the original in French and scrutinised the text in great detail. I also seem to recall there was a TV adaptation in the 1980’s?

In the rooms above a haberdashery in a dank back-street of Paris, a pair of lovers, Thérèse and Laurent, embarks upon a clandestine affair. Thérèse’s calm, almost static exterior belies her inner life as a passionate woman. Having spent her life with the pallid, sickly cousin to whom she is later married, Laurent brings about her sexual awakening. Desire drives away all reason and the pair plot to kill Thérèse’s husband, Camille, so that they can be together. On a day out at the river, Laurent drowns Camille. After a respectable period of mourning, Thérèse and Laurent are married, but their union is blighted by the ghost of Thérèse’s husband.

This is a dark, dark book. Published in 1867, it was criticised for being pornographic. Interestingly, the ensuing debate allowed Zola to answer his critics by means of a preface to the second edition of the book – which was great for sales! The setting is dark and the emotions are base. Despite being over 150 years old, this novel is a fascinating examination of the essence of humanity. It is worth knowing that Zola used the text to examine theories about Naturalism, the ideas that people are essentially ‘human beasts’, driven by the same instincts as animals. He wanted to study temperament, not character. Don’t let the notion of theories put you off – the book really has stood the test of time.

Whilst writing this review, I discovered that a new film adaptation of the novel was released in February 2014 as ‘In Secret’, an American production starring Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse and Jessica Lange as Madame Raquin, Camille’s mother. I’ll look out for a copy.

By the way, you will be relieved to know that I am certain that the reason the book is so vivid is not that I am involved in an adulterous relationship with a man from the Railway Board, nor am I planning to dunk my husband in the Cherwell so that I can take off with my paramour. It’s just a gripping read. Honestly!

zola quote

Book No 14 (2014) : Last Bus to Woodstock

woodstockConsidering I have lived in Oxford for the best part of 20 years, it has taken me an inordinately long time to get around to reading an Inspector Morse mystery. ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was given to me as a birthday present by a friend, to help with the 50/50 challenge.

To start with I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to read the book without constant flashing images of John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, as per the TV series. But that didn’t happen at all – because the characters I imagined were completely different from Thaw and Whately. My Morse was tougher, sexier, more vibrant – and my Lewis was nowhere near as insipid as his ITV counterpart.

Sylvia and her friend are waiting at the bus stop one night, but decide instead to hitch a ride. Sylvia is later found murdered, in the back yard of the Black Prince pub. Morse and Lewis john thaware assigned to the case and eventually uncover the truth behind the events leading up to the death.

The plot to the murder mystery is intricate and tightly woven. However, I had some severe misgivings about the book. Firstly, I found it extremely frustrating that the clues were not planted throughout the narrative to allow me to work out whodunit. I don’t think I am a particularly dense reader, and the perpetrator turns out to be a character that has paid a fairly minor role in the drama. Morse has the details worked out by the end, and all is revealed in the last 20 pages. But, how frustrating. If there is no way to figure out the mystery, it just makes Inspector Morse (and Colin Dexter) seem like smug, supercilious know-it-alls.

dexterWhich brings me to Colin Dexter. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was published in 1975 and social attitudes may have changed, Dexter’s portrayals of women are at best disparaging, at worst verging on the misogynistic. Females are either angels or whores, Morse is attracted to a young nurse in uniform and there was an uncomfortable sense that some of the characters felt that young Sylvia may have been ‘asking for it’ based upon what she was wearing.

Colin Dexter’s work has been highly praised but, if this book is indicative of the rest of the series, I am not a fan.

One thing I would add is that this actual book is of a beautiful quality. This edition, published by Pan, has smooth, creamy white pages, super-clear font and a lustrous cover. A joy to hold in my hands.