This was a novel that was suggested to me by a co-worker that knows I’ve read books from all over the spectrum of topics and countries… It’s a national bestseller, but I can’t tell you if that’s from the US or the UK because the book is very English. Sarum – The Novel of England, written by Edward Rutherfurd, is a rather large paperback and one that is mostly made up by a group of short stories with some common ties between them. It is, loosely put, the story of England, with a number of side plots.
See, over the last decade or so , there’s been an ongoing theme of fact-based fictional stories. Titanic being the most visible and notable example, takes a real life event and weaves through it a work of fiction. Personally, I like the style, because it helps put a spin on what really happened, has a well known (or at least a well defined) plot, but the characters are still capable of growing and surprising you because they are not “bound” by history. Say, as an example, you wrote a story about the Civil War, but your main character was Lincoln – you can’t have him off shagging some woman while he was supposed to be writing the Gettysburg address… history knows where he was supposed to be because he was part of the “actual” history. However, if you inserted an unknown “little known” character into the plot, he can do whatever he wants – he’s not bound by the time line of history. Even in “Quantum Leap,” when Sam is leaping in and out of Lee Oswell, he expressed his regret that as a Secret Service agent he was unable to save President Kennedy – Al tells him that he wouldn’t remember, but Sam was probably there to save Jackie Kennedy – as Al remembers is, in the original timeline, both the President and First Lady were shot in Texas. As the only history we know is with Jackie O living, and helping the nation to heal, so you’re left to think “maybe there is a Sam Beckett running around time, fixing things”… ok, maybe not, but I bet you ya went “HMM” the first time you saw that episode!
Sarum does this same thing, more or less. The story opens with a group of hunters that are living during the times of the last Ice Age. Some of this part of history is extrapolated by theories and such, since no one was around at the time to record it, but it all read as believable. From there, the story jumps through the centuries, focusing on one small section of England, most of the time. Events take you to other parts of Europe (and the world, eventually, as England’s influence grows) but the on going fictional story always relates back to Sarum. In fact, this is why I think of them as short stories. The chapters about England under the rule of Rome could stand on their own, but as part of the novel, they just continue the on going story of the town. Right now, I’m still in the middle of the book, I believe around the 13th century; from what I’ve seen from other reviews and the back cover, it will run right up into 1985.
I’m enjoying it – it’s not light reading by any means, but it’s still a good read. It’s able to give the English view of the world, which is unique – remember that being an island, they have been sheltered from certain European events. It took Roman influence longer to get there – it took the medieval culture, and later the Renaissance longer to get there, and that helped to preserve England’s ancient history. It also helps to show how Ireland got its own identity by way of Roman rule in the main island. What I’m most looking forward to is the perspective of the World Wars and the Empire – as a Yank, we’ve usually been shown all three events from one point of view so it should be interesting.
I found it for sale on Amazon – so can you…