||[Apr. 11th, 2008|10:32 am]
Social realism and the gothic: these are the two main modes of the 19th century novel. Tolstoy is predominantly social realist, Emily Bronte is predominantly gothic and Dickens whips the two together to achieve a more or less satisfactory blend. Zola seems to want to be a social realist. We will tour his laboratory with him and he'll show us some very interesting things he's been culturing in petrie dishes. That's how this very odd book begins. We feel we're going to learn about the criminal mind. And then- about halfway through- there's a shift of tone and we find ourselves involved in a full-blooded melodrama of supernatural revenge. It's as if Simenon had handed over to Stephen King. The white-coated scientist is still droning away in the background, rationalising the goings-on, but we don't believe him anymore, because we're dealing with walking corpses and telepathy and possession and the Lord knows what.
Therese Raquin is a powerful book. Horrific. It makes you flinch. But If ever a writer lost control of his material it happened here.