End of a Saga

I have mixed feelings when I get to the end of a big novel, well any novel for that matter. I feel excited as I love to complete something and I feel depressed, if it has been good. Depressed because I have been involved in all the charaters and their relationships and I feel like they are all coming to a close!

I have just finished a 1200 page novel (a sequel). It was World Without End, Ken Follett. I loved the first one, Pillars of The Earth, so I couldn’t wait to get hold of this one. I was even better!

Here’s part of what the Sydney Morning Herld said:

In 1327, in a forest outside the cathedral city of Kingsbridge, two men are killed and a potentially devastating letter is hidden. Its contents would turn England upside down.

In World Without End, Ken Follett makes us wait for more than 1000 pages before the letter’s secret is confided. This is historical fiction-making in the grand manner, although the novel is composed in an essentially conventional mode. Follett’s book begins two centuries after The Pillars of the Earth (in which the building of the cathedral was related). Since this chronicle of the later Middle Ages encompasses the most terrible European century before the 20th – with strife, dearth, pestilence, the Hundred Years War and the Black Death – a very large cast of characters is assembled, for their attrition rate is bound to be high.

Most historical fiction of the past few decades is revisionist in this particular issue: the formative agency of women is emphasised. They are written back into the record, whether real actors such as Queen Isabella, who deposed her husband, Edward II, or Follett’s characters – Caris, Gwenda and the Lady Philippa, forced to marry Ralph but who through suffering will outwit and defeat him.

Follett’s invention of incident-packed misadventures never flags.

We are also treated to medieval accounting, agriculture, architecture (especially), economics, law and medicine. Conveying so much information, committed to an action-driven narrative, Follett wisely chooses a very plain idiom, neither pseudo-medieval, nor slangishly modern. His command of the design of his book is as impressive as Merthin’s construction of the tallest building in England.

It’s been a long, self-renewing journey for Follett from the lean World War II espionage thriller, Eye of the Needle, to historical pageant on his present extravagant scale. No doubt some readers will think of this door-stopper as a “Book Without End”. Others will remember the word that concludes the prayer that furnishes World Without End with its title: “Amen”.

Nonetheless, many will rejoice in the prodigal, sustained creative drive that makes reading this book an experience of pleasant, if not intellectually bracing immersion. Big as it is, World Without End is physically not too hard to manage. It is a tax on time mainly well worthwhile.


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