As promised, as soon as I finished “The Pillars of the Earth,” I requested the stand-alone sequel at my library: “World Without End.” Three weeks later, I had it in my hands.
Follett published this book 18 years after the publication of “Pillars”–and I am so glad he chose to write a sequel. And that the sequel is 1,014 pages long. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I invest emotionally in what I read, so the longer it goes on, the better. If a story is over after a brief 200 pages, I feel like I have been from the womb untimely ripped. Like my relationship with that book didn’t have time to fully mature before I was torn away from it. You get the idea, quoth I.
I loved this book. The same disclaimer still applies (rape and pillage, and the occasional gratuitous violent hunting scene or punishment-of-a-thief description)–but overall it was extremely enjoyable reading. I knew what to expect of the writing style, which helped me get into this book faster: it’s an exciting narrative peppered with interesting historical tidbits, the plot is always on the move, and Follett spares us no measure of suspense, drama, and action. I’m not surprised that before plunging into historical fiction, he wrote spy thrillers. The writing won’t earn him a Pulitzer, but it’s top notch popular fiction.
The story takes place in the 1300s in the town of Kingsbridge, in the same location and two hundred years after his first novel. Many of the characters are descendants of the original cast from “Pillars.” At first, it seemed to me like the characters were very similar in occupation and persona to the ones in “Pillars”–the smart businesswoman who has a frustrated romance with a talented and innovative builder, the corrupt lord who rules by fear and tries to become the Earl of Shiring, the scheming monk who wants to become a bishop and uses his powers for evil, etc.–however, there are enough variations on their bare bones characteristics to eventually make their personalities distinct. Also, it’s not like there were a million occupations to choose from in those times–no web developers or massage therapists or corporate cubicle jobs. The way I see it, your basic choices are:
1) Nobility (king, lords, earls, knights)
2) Church (monks, priests, nuns, bishops)
3) Peasants (tenants, laborers or serfs)
4) Merchants/craftsmen (builders, masons, wool traders, innkeepers, etc.)
OK, there are a few other categories–let’s not forget the prostitutes, bailiffs, the occasional lawyer, and some other random occupations. But the choices were very limited, and frequently not even choices.
There are unexpected twists in the plot, and I love how Follett doesn’t kill off the main characters I had come to love via the Plague (all together now: “Thank you, Ken!”). I was really nervous about that, but I guess he loves his characters as much as I do and couldn’t bear to just finish them all off. In fact, I was more than a little nervous knowing that the Plague was going to play an important part in the story, since I have no desire to read detailed descriptions about people coughing up blood, getting disgusting lumps under their arms, etc. Well, I’m happy to say that the Plague part wasn’t so bad! As in, he didn’t use it as an excuse to write a series of horrific and elaborate medical passages designed to raise my hackles and give me gooseflesh. Hooray!
It is fascinating to learn about how the political system worked, how justice was administered, how the Church related to the State, and all the minutiae of daily life in the 1300s. Even though Follett doesn’t hide the ugly parts of life in that time, there is enough romance in the air that it almost makes me want to live in the Middle Ages . . . except not, if I really think about it. I mean, the women didn’t wear any underwear, and that would just feel weird. A little too breezy, if you know what I mean. Plus, I like my spice cupboard too much to give it up–I guess only the rich could afford expensive and exotic spices such as ginger or cinnamon. No Dhal Makhani or Pad See Ew were being made in England back in those days, which would cause me to rip my own hair out and immediately abort my time traveling project.
One thing that impressed me is that the Middle Ages are just so dang long! Follett could write a third book taking place 200 years later and still be in the Middle Ages! Any history buffs who can tell me when the Renaissance took over? . . . and then I remembered I’m currently on something called the ‘internet,’ which houses a site called ‘Wikipedia.’
Oh, the things I forget sometimes.
Looks like in England the start of the Renaissance is dated by the beginning of the Elizabethan Era, in 1558. So Mr. Follett, how about a 3rd book?
You haven’t heard the last of these books, by gum–my next project might be watching the miniseries and reviewing that. Has anyone seen it? Thumbs up or thumbs down? By the end of this you’ll have Follett coming out of your ears–that’s the plan.