I want to share an amazing piece of historical fiction that I have just read (Yes! I hear you groan and I promise to write about a modern-day set novel soon….I was about to say next week, but I have the Alexander Trilogy lined up…so it will be soon and yes too much of historical fiction does not fry anybody’s brain!) Now that I have stopped digressing, let me get on to core of the matter – I have just finished reading Edward Rutherford’s London and it its MAGNIFICENT!!!Edward Rutherford was born in England in 1948 and was educated at Cambridge and Stanford Business School. He worked as a publisher for couple of years before settling down to write Sarum that traces the lives of the Wilsons, Shockleys and Porters from the time of Stonehenge to the close of War of Roses, covering 10000 years of history of the land. It became an instant bestseller and this self-confessed disciple of James Michener settled down to write a couple of more such bestsellers including Russia, The Forest, New York and London
I liked Edward Rutherford’s writing ever since, one day generally drifting through a library shelf; I picked up his The Forest. It was a pleasant surprise and a wonderful read – written in the style of James Michener’s The Source and Poland; it traced the evolution of the New Forest from the Norman Conquest to the modern-day. I was impressed by clean, simple style of writing with amazing plots and well researched material, but nothing prepared me for the brilliant work of London.
We have all read pieces of writing that become an old friend that you are loath to part with. London is one such work – it’s an epic and a mammoth work (only 1300 pages), but I rushed through the whole thing and then somewhere at about the 700 page mark, when I knew that I had read more than half of the book, I began to drag it out, because I did not want it to end. The book covers more than 2000 years of history, beginning from the very antiquity and the life around River Thames, touching upon all the key events from the coming of Romans and eventually Christianity, to the rise and fall of various royal houses of England and the establishment of such institutions/buildings that give the city her identity – the Parliament, the Lincoln Inn, St Pauls and Westminster Abbey. Rutherford’s style is simple- he creates his six fictional families and tells the stories of their descendants entwining them in and out of historical situations that gave an impetus to the development and growth of London, making them intermingle not only with each other, but also with significant historical figures like Thomas Becket, Bishop Cramer, Shakespeare, Sir Christopher Wren and of course, a whole gallery of English monarchy. The story traces the rise of one of the greatest metropolis of the world from the Celtic era to the modern-day dockyards of London through the families of Duckets, Barnikles, Flemings and Bulls as their lives and fortunes intertwine with each other and the rise of London. The most wonderful part of this book is while this work is an epic saga, he never loses his grip on the plot and with the close of each era, I was left wondering, so what happens to Lord Bocton, what will Ducket’s son do now?, especially since today’s hero’s grandson can be tommorow’s villain and a minor incident that as a reader you glossed over could have unfathomable effects as you go down another 300 years. It’s a well-researched work, historically accurate – I especially love such small curios like how the rhyme Ringa Ringa Roses or how the term Cockney came about and many such historical nuggets.
I believe Lisa Jardine of the Times summed it up very aptly when reviewing the book – Rutherfurd’s is a marathon task… I think that he pulls it off. LONDON: the Novel could hook you on history for life.’ I so agree with that…read it…..the book will make you want to go back revisit your English History classes again!