Secondly, while you certainly feel for the plight of the miners, on an individual level, you find yourself not caring about the characters at all. It's as though Zola forgot to empathise on a personal level until the last few chapters. The characters are well-described, but mostly uncatered for on an emotional level, unless treated as a whole. Perhaps I'm just cynical and uncaring, but they didn't affect me at all, and as such, the novel dragged.
I understand Zola wanted to really show the undoubtedly long wait the miners had to suffer through without any indication of relief, and he does it well. There is still enough occurring to keep it interesting, but as it happens to people you don't care about, there's little there to pull you through the story. It seems more like work than pleasure to be reading by about halfway through, and sure enough, I stopped. I didn't read any of it for a long time, but after I realised I still wanted to read, and it wasn't a patch of disinterest in books in general, I decided to finish it. The story is good enough to warrant it being finished (though possibly not to start it in the first place). So I read 150 pages in one go just so I could start something else.
Really, I can't see myself recommending Germinal to anyone, which is a shame really. The story is worth being told, and worth being read, but without strong characters, it just doesn't seem worth it. So I find myself in the strange position of appreciating what it attempts to achieve, rather than what it actually does....Continua