La Bête humaine
Emile Zola (1890)
This is an incredibly sensual book, almost to the point of vulgarity. Not in the sense that it is overtly sexual or violent even, just that the atmosphere is palpable in every scene.
All of the characters feel as though they are just centimeters from one another: living, breathing and viscerally gutting themselves all within close proximity. Even when Severine and Jacques take their weekly dalliances to Paris, it feels as though Paris herself has become but another suburb of Rouen.
The image of the ripe neck is persistent and laden with connotations of lust, death and some form of culmination, either murderous or sexually inclined. The image of the body is extended to non-organic objects, such as the train and we see a kind of self-mutilation in the horrific accident which occurs before the book’s denouement.
The motif of modernity feels like a powerful force which keeps pulling these desperate creatures towards some pre-ordained demise, all the while the pace is painfully slow, as though the fact that it is inevitable means that their end is in no way urgent, seeing that it is given.