Friday 17 April 2015

Germinal by Émile Zola

Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms is now hosting a new meme for readers of the classics called The Classics Salon. Each week she will pose a question for you to answer about the classic you are currently reading.

Thanks to my recent holiday, I'm running two weeks behind, so this is my catch up post.
The first question asked us about our first impressions.

I'm currently reading Germinal for Zoladdiction month.

I actually started Germinal two years ago. But I was reading it on my epad and it was a struggle. Not the story - the epad. It turns out that I seriously dislike reading a book on a screen. So I left Étienne languishing halfway down a mine for over a year.  

Firstly, Germinal is not a comfort read.

Zola's exploration of life in a mining village in France is bleak, cold, grim and definitely uncomfortable. My first impressions of Germinal have been very physical in nature.

Zola's descriptions of working in the mines made me squirm as the claustrophobic, cramped nature of their work bore down on me. I could almost feel the jagged edges edges pressing into my spine, the cold seeping into my bones, the muscle cramps and aches from repetitive work in unnatural poses.

The crowded, bleak existence of the miner's home lives also affected me strongly - instilling a sense of despair & helplessness. I felt how unfair it was to live like that and how difficult it was going to be to try and change anything.
To find love and human kindness amongst this grimness almost seemed like sacrilege. 

The acceptance of ones lot; to work in mean, squalid conditions as being better than to not work at all. That living and sleeping with 10 others in a two room hovel was the best you could expect from life; all hard truths for the reader to accept.

But despite all of this the young girls still dreamed of love. 

They believed that love & marriage would somehow be different for them because they loved more deeply, passionately & wisely than their mothers did!

Which leads me to Mangoes second Classics Salon question - which character do you relate to?

Young Catherine steals my heart so far. 

Her faith and trust that somehow everything will work out better for her...even as she gets drawn into a sexual relationship she doesn't really want because she has no power to avoid it.

Zola captures the innocence & unswerving self-belief of youth beautifully. Catherine's headlong rush into adult behaviours before having any real understanding of what she's getting herself into or the self-awareness to make good choices, is heartbreakingly familiar.


  1. After having read Ruth's post from last week, I decided to try one of Zola's short stories to understand what it was about this writer that had everyone raving about him. I believe I have had a glimpse. I read "The Flood" which was quite intense and full of varied emotions. But most of all I was drawn to his description - so detailed! Therefore, bearing in mind his writing I can understand how effective the mining story must be. It sounds depressing but powerful.

    1. Many say that Germinal is Zola's best work, which is why I started with it. But I ended up reading Nana for last year's Zoladdiction because that's what I had a paper copy of.

      Nana was a wonderful read but Germinal is something else again. I never thought a story about mining & industrial action would be such a riveting read.

  2. Great review! You nailed it on the head w/ Zola. He did an awesome job w/ Germinal.

    I'm w/ you when it comes to electronic reading. I don't like it at all.

  3. I finally got to Germinal last year and thought it was amazing.

    I also seriously dislike reading from a screen - give me the real thing any day!

  4. Dear Brona,

    am just popping in to say that I have deleted my blog (Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms). It was a spur-of-the-moment action, but it was something I needed to do. I apologise for leaving you all just when I had begun the Classics Salon. I had been greatly looking forward to it, but personal reasons decided me on the course of action I took.

    Again I apologise.

    best regards,


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