It could be argued with ease that this isn’t a ‘forgotten book’ – even so, as it was published in 2007, it’s now quite old.
This 1237-page tome from Ken Follett continues the story of Kingsbridge, the town and cathedral we first encountered in The Pillars of the Earth, but some 200 years later. Monumental in size, in scope and execution, World Without End is an enthralling read that deserves all the superlatives it has gleaned. I’m only sorry it took me so long to get around to read it – it’s been sitting on my library shelf for five years. Initially, I was daunted by its size. But once I’d read Pillars, I knew World Without End might be a thick book, but it would be a fast read, and it was, as Follett’s story pulls you in and the pages seem to turn of their own volition.
World Without End spans the period 1327 to 1361, following the lives of four main characters, Gwenda, Caris, and the two brothers Merthin and Ralph. The saga begins with these four as children, witnessing a fight and a murder in the forest – an event that has far-reaching consequences.
After 60 pages or so, we leap forward ten years and their separate lives begin to go in different directions. Both of Follett’s main female characters are strong, gutsy – Caris is a splendid creation, heroic, brave, driven, saintly yet flawed. The two brothers are complete opposites, Merthin a pacifist and a builder, while Ralph a violent and a destructive seeker of power. Intertwined with these four are many other characters, rich and poor, simple and complex, cunning and humorous.
The plotting is faultless, evidence of a master storyteller at his peak.
Throughout, it’s a believable depiction of the lives and times in this period, with the feudal system crushing ambition, the plague devastating swathes of the population, and politics of church and aristocracy vying for power and glory.
By the end, I felt I’d lived with these characters and was sorry to leave (most) of them - no mean achievement for a writer after so many pages!
Both books have been filmed as TV series and are on DVD. Pillars is better, perhaps because it’s longer, but they’re both worth watching.