Fall of Giants – Ken Follet Book #2 – 2013

The Short Version: All-encompassing epic showcasing the lives of various fictional (and real) characters across WWI. Breath-taking.

The Real Stuff (with superfluous notes): I became a fan of Follet’s work after reading Pillars of the Earth (another list book, I may review that sometime too). It was so beautiful in its ideas, so rich in its imagery, and so true to its cast, that I knew I had become a fan. The sequel, World Without End, was less awe-inspiring, but still brilliant. I felt I had found an author worth the trouble.

Then I read one of his spy novels.

I’m not much of a fan. I mean, Alex Rider aside, spies for me are best left to the movies. And Follet’s book was somewhat sucky. To be fair, it was his first ever novel, Eye of the Needle, but it was allegedly highly acclaimed. Not by me. I left him alone for while, and while I picked up Fall of Giants once or twice in various bookstores, I refused to buy it and commit to reading it. It wasn’t cheap (few books are), and I have a pile of books to get through at any given time. If it weren’t for a sale with it being ridiculously cheap I would have missed out.

For anyone clued up on their history, the book plays a game with you: it dances around the background to the war, allowing you to believe humanity’s inherent desire for peace will stop a war you KNOW happened. Then Follet teases you, gives you glimpses into ending the war, altering the players, altering the winners, changing what you know to be fact. It’s done with grace and style, and you cannot put the dratted thing down until you see how it is that what you know to happen, happened.

The character’s have depth in a way that surprises you. The feminist aristocrat has a soft side, the Average Joe(sef) has a cruel one. They all stay true to who they are – it’s circumstance that pushes them to their limits in a way so real, and so profound, you begin to blur the line between the fictional beings and the real ones. Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill and Lenin all have starring roles, and Follet claims he only used actual quotes, and plausible circumstances with those characters. You develop attachments to them all, even the negative ones, perceiving their point of view, and disagreeing with it vehemently, but still indulging them nonetheless.

I loved it so much, I actually went out and got another of his books, A Dangerous Fortune (which became book #3 – 2013). It wasn’t a spy novel, but the mastery of characters was evident once again, and I want to read more and more.

So I Should Read it… if you’re a history buff, liked any of Follet’s other books, are looking for something special

And I Should Skip it… if R-rated scenes don’t go well with you, and you’ve got no interest in global politics at all, ever, under any circumstances.

Good Enough For Seconds? Without a doubt. I shall be getting the sequel as soon as it’s in paperback (and at a decent price).

Ken Follet is wayyy talented, and Pan publish great stuff, but they aren’t involved in my blog.


Possession-A.S.Byatt Book #1-2013

The Short Version: Follows two researchers as they attempt to unravel correspondence between two Victorian poets. A lot of poetry, can be tedious, but in the end is somewhat worth it.

The Real Stuff (with superfluous notes): 2013 came knocking with a bit of a shock. I started educational doings within a week of celebrating New Year’s Eve, and my reading suffered. Well, not really: 6 books in as many weeks is bang on target, but one of them was a kid’s book, and one I had started last year, so I’m not truly convinced.

Possession is a novel on my archetypal list, Exclusive Books’ 101 Books to Read Before You Die. It’s not a book I would usually pick up and read, but the whole point of the Lists is to challenge my literary tastes, as it were. This was a great example of a failed experiment.

I don’t like poetry. Not at all. I also don’t like academia much-but I’m biased because of my field. So a book that looks intimately at those two things would really have to be special to keep my interest. By page 3 I was bored. On page 30, I cheated by finding out was going to happen on Wiki.  Page 300 confirmed how much I hated it.

The biggest problem was the characters. The researchers, Roland and Maud, were so…weak. Not in terms of the writing, but in terms of the personalities Ms Byatt chose to give them. Christabel, one of the poets, was just as bad. All of them meandered around in this vortex of past and present, and drove me nuts.

The plot of the researchers was predictable, and somewhat…stagnant. I didn’t see them grow, or even really care what had happened to them in the end. The only thing that interested me was discerning the idea of the title…Possession…what it meant to the modern characters, in terms of knowledge, in terms of documents, in terms of each other…those last 25 or so pages truly highlighted that and redeemed the book somewhat in my eyes.

But what truly saved the book was the story of the poets. Yeah, their letters were difficult to get through. Understanding the progression of their story depended heavily on spending time with Roland and Maud. But Ellen and Sabine’s journals, and the third-person view of their relationship truly made the book. It was written lightly, with deft touches; layers of paint on a blank canvas with excesses that make the whole picture beautiful. The postscript is perhaps one of the best things I have ever written, and also one of the saddest: if she’s that good, why were 500 pages (in my edition) so dreary?

So I Should Read it… if you like poetry, the Victorian era, and subtlety

And I Should Skip it… if you have minimal patience

Good Enough For Seconds? No. Unfortunately, I will think long and hard before I pick up another A.S.Byatt novel, and will never read Possession again.

While I’m sure Ms Byatt is a lovely lady, and Vintage a great publishing company, neither of those entities have a say in my blog.  

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