The difficulty I have with realist fiction is that it's so depressing. Here we are in the coal country of France, among the miners who starve under the new regime as well as under the old; with horses who live in the mine, never seeing daylight, and families that live and die there. The bourgeois are not producing anything lovely with the excess capital, the land is bitter with coal-dust, family relations break down under starvation, and neither the plotting revolutionaries nor the final outraged mob improve anything much.
Lots of great detail, though. I was happy to learn what the 'white sand and red sand' that used to be sold in the streets was for; after scrubbing down a (mostly stone) house, one threw sand everywhere and swept it out to dry the house.
The strike of the Montsou colliers, born of the industrial crisis which had been growing worse for two years, had increased it and precipitated the downfall. To the other causes of suffering--the stoppage of orders from America, and hte engorgement of invested capital in excessive production--was now added the unforeseen lack of coal for the few furnaces which were still kept up; and this was the supreme agony, this engine bread which the pits no longer furnished.
Find in a Library: Germinal. (My copy was translated by , known between the wars for his attention to the gritty sexual side of life.)