LONDON by Edward Rutherfurd

Full of thoughtful prose and evocative imagery, Edward Rutherfurd’s London hops and skips through history like a flat stone across calm waters. When you stop and how long that skip will be, you never know. You might get just a peak or a good long look and it’s the not knowing as much as the story itself that kept this reader interested in what turned out to be a story of epic scale.

London begins before time was time but quickly advances through the time of Rome and Caesar, gradually making its way to the 20th century. The novel follows several intertwined families over the decades and centuries. It was an interesting book, but not riveting. I wasn’t manically tearing my way through, biting off the heads of anyone who dared to interrupt my reading time. Instead, I plodded my way through London over several weeks (due to reduced reading time thanks to my new work commute and taking a break to read one or two irresistible books). Rutherfurd held himself to a high standard of exacting detail throughout the novel. The sheer magnitude of the research must have been staggering and would have daunted many a writer. For that alone, I think he should be lauded. For that alone, I’ll read another of his books. (I’m thinking Sarum or The Rebels of Ireland, so if anyone has a thought or recommendation, I definitely want to hear it.)

Because it was so obviously a labour of love, I wanted to love every word of London. That’s just not what happened though. I enjoyed the book, don’t get me wrong, but I did become disengaged from time to time. Most often this happened when Rutherfurd included too much exposition and not enough character development in the section. Some of the things I loved follow this paragraph. In particular, I liked the continuity. You have to have a keen eye for it when you’re reading, but there’s a mystery early on that’s resolved right at the end of the book (literally in the last few pages) and I really like that Rutherfurd used that to pull to whole book together.

Having studied Latin, I developed a love of words and am fascinated by their origins – Latin or otherwise – and how they’ve developed and changed. Here’s an example of that from London. The modern word villain derives from the French villein (which itself derived from the Latin). We all know what villain means today, but did you know that in the 11th century it simply meant a peasant? I didn’t. Neat.

Later on, a mention of Abelard & Heloise sent me searching fruitlessly for materials from an old university course I took. Obviously the class was a good one since the story stuck with me for over a decade. Similarly, I expect London to stick with me as well.

History is often like a game of telephone and never is that more aptly depicted than in a novel like this one. Or like Steven Saylor’s Roma & Empire, two novels which were the basis for the recommendation I received for reading London. Speaking of which, Steven emailed me last month to let me know that The Seven Wonders, the newest Gordianus the Finder book was on shelves. I don’t have my copy yet, but it’s high up there on my list.

Have you read Rutherfurd’s London? What did you think of it? Have you read any of his other books? As always, I want to know. And as always, if there’s a book you think I should read or an author I should check out, please leave it in the comments section.


And that’s my 2¢ for today.


~ by leslies2cents on June 27, 2012.

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