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Jun 2012
Germinal - Emile Zola - Penguin Classics, 2004
* * * * *
I love it when I encounter a book that surprises me, and this one certainly did. I originally put it on my wishlist out of a sense of duty. Having read most of the significant British Victorian novelists, I thought it was time to give some of the continental ones a go. With Zola, I decided to start with what is generally regarded as one of his two best works, because quite frankly I couldn't see myself getting round to the rest of his prolific output (Germinal is the thirteenth of his monumental 20 novel Rougon-Macquart sequence, and he wrote a dozen others as well). The only things that I knew about him as a person was that he wrote J'accuse, the open letter which exposed anti-semitism in the French state in much the same way as the Stephen Lawrence case revealed institutional racism in the UK, and that he was a leading exponent of naturalism, a literary movement seeking to depict a grimy and gloomy everyday reality. So I had expected this tale of a strike at a coal mine in northern France to be heavy-handed and moralistic, like Dickens but without the imaginative turns of phrase, memorable characters and flights of fancy. What I hadn't expected was that it would I would have to completely revise my notion of what a Victorian novel can be.
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