Dodgy historical novels – World Without End – Ken Follett

I was getting rather behind with my blog as I was reading so much that I decided to read Follett’s World Without End, a massive tome of over 1000 pages to slow me down.  It worked.

The story follows the lives of four children; Griselda, Ralph, Merthin and Caris who witness the murder of some knights in a forest by someone  who is hiding a big secret.   I read Follett’s Pillars of the Earth last year and found it mildly enjoyable.  I found this book more interesting, after all a novel that takes place during the plague should be fairly exciting.    I enjoyed Follett’s accounts of this horrific disease, the historically accurate cures that the people tried, and its impact on peasants lives and how many of them actually benefitted due to the abundance of land after the plague.

However Follett does not always stick  to historical realism.  The Edward II  storyline of how he wasnt actually murdered with a poker up his bottom but was actually still alive seemed less interesting than the real events so I don’t see why he felt the need to change it.   Although I have just read that there is a historical theory about this – the Fieschi Letter.   This was also quite a boring cliff hanger so I don’t feel the reader will lose anything by my giving it away.

The storylines become increasingly unbelievable.  Poor Griselda has every possible thing in her life go wrong and  ridiculously and shockingly seems to enjoy being raped by Ralph the sadistic and villanous knight – “she felt an answering pleasure in her own loins” – what was Follett thinking of?  His brother Merthin has a on-off love affair with Caris for so much of the book that you begin not to care what happens to them. There is also a farcical plot involving a nun who becomes the Prioress of the Abbey despite not really believing in God and having quite a bit of sex as well.  Characters also seem to have a 21st century tolerance of homosexual bishops.

The book is littered with anachronistic language, now I recognise that if they were talking in Old English it would be hard to follow, but some of the vocabulary used is frankly ridiculous such as shag and using the term the plague .  There were many more that had me grimacing that I cannot remember and I am not going to re-read the book to find them.

Was Follett bored by the time he had got to the final couple of hundred of his pages?  I suspect so, I was.  What started as an enjoyable book just became too long.  It also more or less has the same storyline as Pillars of the Earth, romantic couple torn apart, attempts to build things that keep being foiled by nasty monks, etc..  I found myself more upset by the deaths of cats or dogs in the story rather than the plague victims.   It is a good read for the first half but don’t go for this if are after complete historical accuracy (but is this the job of a novelist?  There’s a question, see my review of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet)



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5 responses to “Dodgy historical novels – World Without End – Ken Follett

  1. Sarah

    You can’t have paid that much attention to the book because Gwenda witnesses the murder, not Griselda.

  2. theo

    Edward II’s murder is disputed by real historians and isn’t a “made-up” scenario by Follett. However, the novel is riddled with historical inaccuracies which makes it excruciatingly painful to read.

  3. Theo, I disagree about Edward II, there are very few historians who would agree with Follett that Edward II was still alive. Yes, maybe it wasnt a poker up the bottom and there is dispute about exactly what happened, but Follett’s interpretation is just stupid! I do completely agree on the historical inaccuracies bit though. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Hans Tjelle

    I seem to remember there being a passing mention of the villagers being restless because it had been a while since the last witch had been executed. While there were sporadic witch trials in the Medieval period, the real percecution was to come much later, during the 16th to 17th century. I felt like Follett had gotten the belief in witches really good in Pillars, with people believing in witches, but not doing much about it, and then screwed it all up in the Endless

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