Thérèse Raquin

My favorite part of the book might be Zola’s preface to the second edition, where he berates his critics and relates what his friend tells him, “You have one huge failing which will close every door to you: you cannot talk for two minutes to a halfwit without letting him know that he is one.” Overall, a good introduction to Zola’s works, short chapters, good pacing, excellent translation by Robin Buss.
The story involves a sickly child, Camille, who is brought up with his orphan cousin Therese, and they then marry. Therese traps all emotion and interest under a hard shell of immobility, sitting for hours just staring out at the world, uncurious. They take possession of a haberdashery in a dingy Parisian alley, Camille’s mother churning out work while Therese waits dutifully on her. Camille brings home a friend from the office, Laurent, who captivates Therese, the first “real man” she has ever lain eyes on, pulsing with energy and strength. Laurent paints Camille’s portrait, decides to take Therese as his lover.
As soon as Laurent kisses Therese, it unleashes a wild passion in her, transforming her cold, immobile state into a frenzied being. They meet upstairs from the haberdashery every day, indulging in their adultery. Laurent soon comes to appreciate the house as his own family; he is doted on by the mother, ravished by the wife, and cheered as a good friend by the husband. But eventually Laurent wants to take Camille’s place, to be able to wake up with Therese one morning. Thus hatches the murder plot which pushes Camille into the lake they are boating around one evening, Camille unable to swim but biting Laurent’s neck as he struggles.
The couple then pretend not to be involved with each other for a few years, and are eventually persuaded to marry by the dead son’s mother. Once married, they are haunted by Camille, and hate each other with an equal passion that they loved each other. The mother suffers a paralyzing stroke, they forget she is around and confess their crime within her earshot, shattering her. Eventually she sees them poison themselves, and is able to die peacefully.