La Bête Humaine, by Émile Zola (17 April — 26 April)

So, after what seems like forever to me, I have finally finished La Bête Humaine. Hooray!

This book is all about the human beast, which is either the man who murders or the intangible thing which drives him to murder, or both, I’m not sure. But I agree with the quote in the introduction, from The Athenaeum, which says that the book should have been titled Murder. Because oh my goodness.

At first there is no murder to speak of; the book seems like a dry cataloguing of the events in the life of M. and Mme. Roubaud, he an assistant train station-master, she his young and pretty wife. But then a secret of her past is revealed and he decides that murder is the best way to make himself feel better about the whole thing. As one does, I guess. Meanwhile, we meet a young man called Jacques whose aunt is possibly being poisoned by her husband and who himself has a gnawing urge to kill women, though he has not yet. He just wants to, like, any time he sees a woman looking all sexy. Oh dear.

So the first murder happens, and we follow along as the authorities sort of try to figure out what has happened and the killer tries to hide his deed. And it works! Sort of. Except that other things happen and lives start falling apart and then suddenly everyone and his sister wants to kill someone else. Because everyone has a bit of the murderer in himself, whether by cold calculation or a fit of passion.

Although I nearly gave up the book within the first hundred pages, I’m glad I stuck around, as all of the plotting and planning of people all trying to kill each other left me very curious as to who would end up dead in the end. And I kept being surprised! Definitely a good book, but not for light reading at all.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: France)