Friday, May 16, 2008

The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd

I love Edward Rutherfurd. He writes amazing books. They are long sweeping epics that focus on a geographical area. I was first introduced to Rutherfurd after reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (and yes, I'm anxiously waiting for World Without End - the sequel - to be published in paperback). The first Rutherfurd book I read was Sarum which chronicles the story of Salisbury and the Salisbury Cathedral. The Forest returns to a similar world and chronicles the story of the New Forest located just south of Salisbury.
All of Rutherfurd's books follow the lives of four of five families over a millennium. In the course of the story fortunes are won and lost, hearts are broken, and the world changes around these small somewhat inconsequential individuals. Famous characters do appear in the periphery of Rutherfurd's books, but they are never the story of Queen Elizabeth or Winston Churchill. They are the story of normal, everyday people.
I found that I was reading along at a brisk pace, really enjoying The Forest when I suddenly came to a grinding halt. One particular chapter was really tedious. It took place in the late-1790s and should have been fascinating, but it really drug relative to the other stories. One particular character, Mrs. Grockleton, was such a clear mirror of Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She is amusing, but almost too much of a caricature. The rest of the chapter was plodding, which I rarely find with Rutherfurd. I usually enjoy his long detailed description of locale and how it changes over such a broad range of time.
Once I finally skimmed and plowed my way through that chapter, the pace picked up again. The surest mark of a good book to me is the way that I feel as I read the last line. With The Forest I was pleasantly content. It was a really good book. I learned a lot - not 'useful' information per se - but I know more about Southern England than I did. And I was pleasantly entertained.
This is not a book for the lighthearted. It is over 600 pages long and it is dense. Rutherfurd relies on really detailed descriptions. But, if you like epics - think John Jakes or Leon Uris - then any book by Rutherfurd, including The Forest, is worth your time.

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