As a book to inspire me for the new year... I think this is the best I could have chosen, despite it's slightly depressing end. Written by Emile Zola it depicts France in the turbulent period of Napoleon Bonaparte's reign as emperor and the strikes of a small mining village... etc etc
Apart from all the historical stuff, the storyline is enthralling, with the intertwining of several story lines around the central Maheu family and the revolutionary minded Etienne, in which we get to know every member of the family and their neighbours intimately. It is in the minute details of their lives and their suffering that I think the reader gets captivated, until you feel their plight, their anger and the injustice as though it were your own. There is no 'hero' of such, as every character has depth and flaws, from Catherine's low self esteem to Etienne's stubborn refusal to see beyond the immediacy of his actions and the manipulation of his power.
The machine of their world is literally crumbling around them, their relationships, their power and their mines (and they are THEIR mines, not the owners) and it says enough that I raged, screamed, cried, laughed and mourned along with them.
Similar in effect to the works of Victor Hugo, this book is powerful and manages to create a world now gone, even if it does evoke more tears than chuckles.