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Edward Rutherfurd

London
Century/Crown

Reviews:

London is the third epic from the author of Sarum and Russka and at 830 hardback pages a definite cause of wrist strain. Sharing a similar theme to Philip Boast's Resurrection, London follows the river Thames as it flows through the heart of London from the days of the Celts and Romans, through sixteen centuries and more to the builders of Tower Bridge and the Docklands developments of the modern day. Throughout, like a vast interweaving tapestry, we are introduced to members of several enduring families as they rise and fall on Fortune's Wheel and survive the successive invasions or political and religious upheavals of their times. The genetic threads that are Duckets, Doggets, Bulls, Barnikels, Carpenters, Flemings, Pennys and Silversleeves all weave their own sections of the saga that show the tenacity of the human animal and their adaptability to the environment in which they find themselves. These are, for the main part, very ordinary people, although an earldom is eventually obtained by one family. So whilst the nature of their everyday lives may be very different to that of a 1990's reader yet their dreams, ambitions and aspirations are still the same. They, like most of us, are generally ignorant of their family origins; at worst it is based on error, at best a collage of family mythology; for most it is irrelevant to their daily lives and sometimes struggle for survival. But perhaps it is the knowledge that each reader is also a part of that enduring genetic river that has kept this title in the bestseller lists since its publication in April. Let me introduce you to a Roman coin forger, the owner of the tavern where Chaucer found inspiration for The Canterbury Tales, an actor/writer striving to outdo Shakespeare, honest, ordinary men and women caught up in the radical events of the Reformation and disputes between King and Parliament. These are our ancestors who survived the Great Plague, fled from or fought The Great Fire, founded the City institutions, endowed its traditions, endured the Blitz and commute to work everyday. The villages of Highgate, Islington, Chelsea, Poplar and so many more are now just names in the vast conglomerate that we call London, and heaven only knows if lavender grows at all on Lavender Hill anymore. So even the spread of urban London is like a microcosmic symbol for the expansion of mankind. I am not often one for sagas - I get frustrated if I feel not enough time has been given to the development of individual characters and the events of their lives. This did not happen when reading this book. Whilst the effort of memory required was often daunting, people and events began to fall into a virtually seamless tapestry and loose ends were all tied and explanations given even if that explanation came a generation or two later. London is a tremendous feat of imagination and planning. The research involved must have been enormous, and whilst there may be other slight errors of fact or assumption it is telling that my only negative comment is on a paragraph where the author talks about burning witches. A popular misconception, I know, but we always hanged witches in England. A single paragraph; it seems almost boring pedantry to comment, but this is a particular bug bear of mine in historical fiction. So, read this book, I would suggest - it's well worth the wrist strain and the perils of reading into the wee small hours. -Towse Harrison From The Historical Novel Review (December 1997), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Towse Harrison, 12/19/2005

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