Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sarum: The Novel of England by Edward Rutherfurd ; read by Nadia May (1987, 1994, 2012).

The subtitle of Sarum is "the novel of England" but perhaps it should be the "attempted rapes, pedophilia, various murders, robberies, adulterous relationships, and one case of witchcraft among many other crimes of England."  All kidding aside, the book was spell binding almost to the very end.  I want Nadia May inside my head narrating every book I read from here on out; she's a marvel of a reader-aloud.  Towards the end, I did get a bit bored - to be perfectly honest, witchcraft and Cavaliers and even cathedral building are more interesting than changing farm practices.

Each chapter covered an era or time period, and often they were told in different ways.  It was almost like each chapter was a loosely connected set of novellas.  Although the narrative perspective remained constant (it never switched to first person, for example), the way in which Rutherfurd told each story did change.  For example, the chapter about the building of Salisbury Cathedral was a conceit based on the seven deadly sins (a big deal in the middle ages) and the master mason's experience with each.

Michener-esque for sure.  I've lamented elsewhere in this blog about the lack of Michener in the world of writing now; the big sweeping historical epics are sort of gone with the wind.

Sarum: The Novel of EnglandSarum: The Novel of England by Edward Rutherfurd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of this very long book, and was (mostly) spellbound.  Nadia May is a marvelous reader-aloud; I'd like her tucked inside my head from here one out reading everything for me; I'm definitely finding out audio books narrated by her.  The subtitle is "the story of England;" perhaps another subtitle could be added:  "including murders, attempted rapes, pedophilia, adulterous affairs, theft, burning, hanging, and at least one case of witchcraft, with various other human depravity thrown in for good measure."  But admit it - it's those exact incidents that usually make a book delicious.

Towards the end, I did get a bit bored - to be perfectly honest, witchcraft and Cavaliers and even cathedral building are more interesting than changing farm practices. But Rutherfurd's writing style was quite interesting and kept me going anyway until the very end.  Every chapter is like a novella, loosely connected by place, history and genealogy; every chapter covers an era, and often those chapters use different narrative techniques. Although he never uses first person, he does often use different conceits; for example, the chapter on the medieval building of Salisbury Cathedral uses the seven deadly sins committed by the master mason of the cathedral (very important in the middle ages) as a mechanism to move the story along.

I lament the passing of the Michener-esque novel.  They are most definitely rara avis in these times.  Sarum is coming on 30 years old pretty soon, and big sweeping historical epics like it are gone with the wind.  Hopefully they will rise again!


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