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The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for murderous thoughts


Ailment: Murderous thoughts

Cure: Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola

It's futile to deny it: we all entertain murderous thoughts now and then. Beloved family members, colleagues and even partners can invite fantasies of violence in the most generous of hearts.

Perhaps they leave long, black hairs in the basin. Or they make slurpy noises when they eat. Or they lean in a bit too close.

You hate them – and you want them to disappear.

Most of us confine ourselves to a brief internal rant, and then don't take the thought any further. We remind ourselves of their good qualities – and also that murder, in any circumstances, is always a really bad idea.

But some of us take the next step, and begin to plot. If you ever catch yourself wondering about methods, dates and ways to escape detection, immediately lock yourself away with Emile Zola's menacing novel, Thérèse Raquin.

It tells the story of Thérèse and Camille, a married couple (Camille is the man) who live above a shop in one of Paris's most desolate arrondissements.

Their lives are so abject and miserable that we can't help sympathising as Thérèse seeks comfort in the arms of Laurent, an idle painter.

But when she and Laurent hatch an elaborate plot to kill Camille in order to clear the way for their love, Zola challenges our affinity with his devious heroine.

Camille is clearly a spineless, spoilt sop – so it's not that we feel much for him; but as the would-be killers become more and more loathsome, we are caught between wishing for some kind of happy ending for the lovers and knowing we should be calling for their heads.

We won't give away what happens – but the message is clear. Murder, and thoughts of murder, gives you bad dreams – and ruins your sex life.