rainycityreflections's Reviews > Sarum: The Novel of England

Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd
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's review
Apr 06, 13

bookshelves: adult-interest-language-level, fiction, history
Read from April 02 to 14, 2012

For anyone who likes multi-generational family sagas and wants to know more about the history of Stonehenge and its environs this long novel is worth a go. But I think to get the most bang for your reading buck, you should probably have at least a nodding acquaintance with English history in general and the history of English warfare as well as Catholic and Anglican church history before delving into Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd. In the edition I read, the author helpfully included some simple maps of the Salisbury Plain area as well as a page showing the genealogy of the five fictitious families around whom the events of this book are focused. Having taught Catholic church history some years ago, I was able to remember enough of it to make sense of the plots and counter-plots that made various characters' lives either wonderful or miserable, depending on their religious and political views. Not being thoroughly grounded in English military history, however, it was rough going for me as a number of the wars, battles, and skirmishes were also dissected. At one point, I nearly put the book down without finishing it because the focus on the military aspect seemed to become pretty tedious. But I kept with it and I'm glad I pushed on through.

With a huge cast of fictional characters Rutherfurd had his hands full making them seem three-dimensional, but he handled it well by creating aspects of personality that carried through the generations. Rutherfurd's characterization, I felt, was sentimental at times, but it was relatively subtle so I wasn't bothered much by it. One aspect of the characterization that appealed especially to me was that of the spirited, independent-minded women of the families, all the way from the prehistoric Akun right on down to the 20th c. Patricia Shockley. Authors sometimes overdo this so that the characters become caricatures, but by and large, I found these characters to be authentic. If I have one quibble with this book's cast of characters it is that there were so many that not all got the attention I thought they deserved. But that's the way it is with huge families, isn't it? I know in my own family I have so many aunts, uncles, and cousins--first, second, third, and once, twice, or three-times removed--I have lost track of all but a relative few who either live in my area or can be found on Facebook. And I do wonder, sometimes, what has become of those I've lost touch with. Will our grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., meet up sometime in the future and either wonder about us here now or have stories passed down through generations to come that will provide the kinds of connections Rutherfurd has written about?

My rating, then is sort of an average of what I thought about several different aspects of this book. The somewhat dry retellings of various historical events balanced out some of the more heartfelt interactions among the characters, leading me to arrive at 3 stars. If it were possible to split stars, I would prefer to give it a solid 3.5.
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Barbara Hmm, wish I had read your review before starting Sarum. I've enjoyed it until Rutherfurd gets into some history that I need more background info on. Not sure if I'll continue at this time. Great writing,

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