Friday, September 30, 2016
Germinal by Émile Zola
This book! Where do I even start??
With a label... Émile Zola's style is classified as naturalism, a form of literary realism. And let me tell you, Germinal is nothing if not realistic! Brutal, in-your-face realism. There is dire poverty and suffering juxtaposed with the bourgeois life of ease and plenty, but Zola portrays the characters with such respect and humanity, the reader somehow sympathizes with everyone.
Germinal is about mining, politics, and labor relations. Sounds incredibly boring, right? Yet boring is the last word I would use to describe this book. The women (and animals) especially broke my heart... such horrible lives. And the incident - OMG!! Can there be anything else in all of literature like that riot scene?
Zola's descriptions of physical surroundings are incredibly vivid. I could practically feel the moisture from the dripping water and melting snow. My feet seemed mired in the thick mud. The scenes in the mines made me nervous and anxious... my heart was pounding. Germinal is the most realistic piece of literature I've ever read. No wonder it is considered Zola's masterpiece!
This is not my first experience with Zola. I read Therese Raquin several years ago and thought it was excellent. [It's a perfect starting point if you're inclined to give Zola a try.] Not long after, and before the television series, I enjoyed The Ladies' Paradise. I've also read several of his short stories.
Germinal is the thirteenth novel is Zola's famous Rougon-Macquart series. I have considered reading them all, but can the others be this good? I've added the first book, The Fortune of the Rougons, to my current Classics Club Spin list. We'll see what happens on Monday...
A few more details...
As usual, I approached this classic as a read/listen combination. I purchased the Penguin Classics edition (pictured above) translated by Roger Pearson. Initially, I downloaded the audio version narrated by Frederick Davidson, but didn't like the translation. Audible has the best customer service and let me exchange it for the Leighton Pugh narration (pictured below)... much better, although the translation was still differed slightly from the print. I wish they would include translation information on their website.
Finally, a big thank you to Melissa and Care for organizing and hosting #GerminalAlong. Classics are always better with friends - great conversation and photos (!) on twitter, Litsy, and instagram. And, of course, the postcards :)
Overall, a grueling, but truly memorable reading experience.