Wednesday 17 November 2010

Don't mention the war!

But Ken Follett does. Repeatedly.

The british novelist is renowned for his spy-stories, often set in the time of World War II, like „The Needle“ or „The key to Rebecca“. But I read none of those, as recent history (20th century) has never interested me a lot.
My focus has always been on medieval, renaissance and 19th century history and thus of course I read and loved „The pillars of the earth“. I was thrilled, when Follett published a follow-up in 2007  and started to read it, as soon it was available on the german market. (By then, I still bought real paper books...) But I was to be disappointed: the novel did not live up to my expectations, being somewhat lengthy and boring. I did not even finish it. And I can tell you, that happens only rarely!

So it was kind of risky to buy Folletts newest novel „Fall of Giants“ for my Kindle, but it turns out to be a captivating read. I have not finished it yet, but I have nevertheless decided to present it to my dear readers.

The story of is set in London and St. Petersburg in the year 1914, right after the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz-Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Very typically for Follett, he describes the world on the brink of war out of different perspectives: an English earl, his housekeeper, a young coal miner, a German diplomat, a Russian worker... all these fates being intertwined by personal relationships, that are about to change dramatically due to the upcoming apocalypse. There is lots of politics and diplomacy, there is oppression and rebellion and of course there is also love. All the ingredients for a good story.

Follett uses the fictional plot artfully to depict history in a easily digestible way, without making it too obvious. The reader witnesses the chain of events that lead to the British entering the war and the change in mood, that makes warmongers out of pacifists after Germany decides to invade Belgium. Not surprisingly, the author - being an active supporter of the Labour Party - does not fail to mention that this group was amongst the few, who tried to prevent a British participation in the conflict until the end. But we can forgive him that bias.
Surprisingly though, that the good guy in this story is the German diplomat, whereas the English lord... But I won‘t tell too much.

Some critics complain about the language being to simplistic and dialogues that read like "children's writing". Of course, Follett is no poet, but to me, the language is good enough to make it an agreeable read. But then of course, I'm not an English native speaker...

However, if a book succeeds in making me interested in World War I, it cannot be so bad. So, if you like historic novels, it's worth checking it out!


Richard said...

I can't say I'm much of a fan of Follett. As you say, his writing is a little simplistic and for me doesn't really convey the scene as well as some other writers. I did end up on the cover of one of his books once though!
See you at the weekend

Melina Sedo said...

You were on the cover of his book? How come?

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Richard said...

@Melina - oooh, it was a long time ago 1996 I think. It's the UK versions of one of his books. I was asked to do it. Who knows why!? :o) But there you go. My 5 minutes of fame. hehe