I’ve been lazily avoiding updating my book pile posts lately. I’d like to claim that was because I was too busy reading the books to writet about them, but in truth its more because of my obsessive interest in Macbook’s and the soon to be ubiquitous iPhone from Apple. I want one!
In between bouts of fetishistic nerdism I have been squeezing in the occasional book. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet came as something of surprise, not least the buying of it. One of the better writing books I’ve read referenced a lot of Follet’s writing, so although he isn’t a writer within my circle of awareness I splashed out on the paperback of this, which to me was his most appealing book. Its about the feuds of three families in 11th Century England and the building of a cathedral, and it has the same architectural majesty as those huge buildings. Its a masterclass in how to write a ‘big’ book, multiple characters, plot threads, grand theme, the works. Its physically a big book as well (1500 pages), and I ground to a halt about 1/3 the way through. Like a huge meal, no matter how well cooked you eventually have had enough.
A similar story surrounds Edward Rutherford’s Sarum . It takes a different approach to big. Its a very male book, in that at times it reads like a non-fiction account of the history of Britain, rather like a literary docudrama. The realisation of ancient Britain is staggeringly effective, and as it progresses it does develop some strong emotional engagement with the characters. But the distanced narrative didn’t grip me as strongly as it might had it brought the drama down to a more human level. Rutherford is sometomes called the British James Michener. I might have to reveisit him soon to see how he compares, having not read anything by him since Space, well over a decade ago now. Just chuck in some James Clavel and I’ll have the set!
Continuing my research of epic narrative I re-read Dune by Frank Herbert recently as well. In abstract Dune seems impossibly absurd. Far, far, far future, family feuds, giant worms, nuns, desert planets, psychic powers, superuman ascendency to Godhood. Which is all the more testament to what a genius Herbert must have been to make all this stuff hang together. It only BARELY hangs together though, and in the later books it comes flying apart. But the first book is really vertigo inducing – the messianic narrative, dark romance, focus on internal psychology and frequent jarring violence make it a very intense read. If you haven’t ever read a real science fiction novel Dune is a good place to start.