Rebe's Reviews > World Without End

World Without End by Ken Follett
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Jan 15, 15

bookshelves: favorite-ya-and-adult, my-dad-read-it-too, adult, adult-novels, series, sexuality-and-gender
Read in August, 2012

Having just finished the book, I'm still feeling all warm and fuzzy at the happy ending (does that count as a spoiler? hmm...), and usually I wait to write a review so that I can be more objective. But nah, I'll go ahead and note my thoughts upon finishing:
1. There were definitely parallels with Pillars. Caris was kind of like Aliena; Merthin was a lot like Jack; Ralph was a lot like William; etc. Both books featured building projects and (definitely a spoiler this time) main characters who struggle for years to marry, and for years are thwarted by other people. But there were enough differences between WWE and Pillars to suit me.
2. The writing style was a bit clumsy, too telling and not enough showing. He was often too obvious, as though, in his eagerness to introduce the next catastrophe, he simply made notes to himself of what characters were feeling or thinking (not always bad, but in this case a bit disappointing, as I didn't have to work to figure out any of the undercurrents of the interactions) and then never came back later and replaced them with better, subtler writing. I also missed the abundance of sensory details that would have made daily life there seem more vivid. But Follett made up for it in part by his addicting plot twists and character relationship tangles. I read quickly through each scene, constantly urged on by the desire to find out what happened next. It wasn't a thriller, by any means, but the suspense was definitely there. This wasn't a poetic book, but nonetheless, I felt immersed in their world. A little less so toward the end, when so many changes took place so suddenly and I wished things would slow down enough for me to get to know the new Kingsbridge, but maybe that's just me.
3. The ending part felt a little hasty--new characters like grown-up Lolla weren't developed very well. To take Lolla as an example since I just mentioned her, I felt like she was just a cliche of modern teenage rebellion. Very little individuality. I found that disappointing, and I was definitely not impressed by Follett's quick tidying up of that little conflict, as I felt it was too easy, with not enough of her struggle revealed. But I guess when you have thousands of pages worth of action, relatively minor character development takes a sad backseat.
4. I have an uneasy relationship with Caris. I agree with her on a lot of things, but I feel like I don't know her as well as I'd like. Follett often showed me instances of her strong personality in key scenes, but I didn't feel like I got to live in her world with her through many more ordinary days, and I would have liked that. I feel like her experiences in ordinary life, her habits and simple likes and dislikes, would have enriched my experience of her. And, as I commented while reading the book, "Caris seems like an anachronism in this book. With [her radical medical views, like her distrust of physicians' learning] and then the feminist attitude toward marriage... well, I agree with her, but I feel like her perspective is not one I should be encountering in Medieval Europe. Maybe some aspects of it, sure, but not all of it together in one character, manifested so strongly throughout the book."
4 and a half. So, Caris was an anachronism. I felt like there were a lot of those in this book. The dialogue, for example--people calling their friends "pals" and saying the recently popularized "reason why" error, etc. I realize a book of authentic dialogue would have been hellish, like trying to read a thousand pages of Joseph talking in Wuthering Heights (in other words, almost a foreign language), but still, the modernity of it was another distracting element.
5. I'll TRY to avoid spoilers here and just say that it annoys me that (and I'm quoting something I said while still reading the book) "a sneeze in Follett's world is never just a sneeze." I admit, I sneeze more often than the average person, but that never means I'm coming down with something. It's just my normal, healthy nose being weird.
6. I did feel that Follett was successful in making Ralph a character I could sympathize with partly, despite his many unsavory actions. [spoiler: I felt bad for him when Sam and Gwenda stabbed him to death.]
7. This book had way more weird names than Pillars. Gwenda, Oonagh, Merthin, Elfric, Wulfric, Mair? Really? Kind of distracting. Maybe I'm just being ignorant here, but I feel like the weird names took away a little from the book's authenticity.
8. Speaking of Gwenda, a lot of commenters seemed to like her. I didn't. (spoiler for the rest of Point No. 8 ->) I hated the way she immediately hated Annet before Follett even gave the reader much inkling of her personality flaws, just as Caris disliked Elizabeth before Eliz. betrayed Merthin. Gwenda might have been annoyed by Annet without Wulfric's presence, but since Wulfric loved Annet, Gwenda's opposition to Wulfric and Annet's upcoming marriage was mainly just "I want Wulfric all to myself because obviously I'm a better person than Annet!" I wanted to reach into the book and pick her up and physically remove her from Wulfric and leave W and Annet to love each other in peace--it wasn't Gwenda's place to decide who Wulfric should love; it was Wulfric's place to decide who Wulfric should love. Later on, Gwenda's desperate seduction of Wulfric also didn't win her any brownie points in my book. I guess she turned out to be a pretty good character, but I dunno, I never warmed up to her. And I never got the feeling that Wulfric truly got over Annet and fell deeply in love with Gwenda, even though he married her and they had a long, companionable life together. I also didn't like Follett's lazy job of reconciling Annet and Gwenda at the wedding. It felt like something Hollywood would think up for the ending of a chick flick.
So, ultimately, I really enjoyed this book, and by the end, I was glued to it, but I'm left with that paradoxical feeling of "I know I could never have written this, but I think I could have done a better job." I'll hesitantly claim this as a favorite book.
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Reading Progress

07/27/2012 page 171
17.0% "At first I didn't think this was nearly as good as Pillars, but now I'm beginning to change my mind. Gwenda annoys me, though, and I don't remember Pillars having this many weird names."
07/29/2012 page 317
31.0% "What stuck with me about Pillars were the characters & interactions, which made Pillars amazing. But now, reading WWE, I also remember all the little things I disliked about Follett's writing style: the clumsiness of it, I guess, for lack of a better word. There aren't any beautiful phrases that surprise me. I suppose that makes it less distracting to read, but I always enjoy little poetic efforts."
07/30/2012 page 452
44.0% "I can certainly understand wanting to like someone and knowing rationally that you should like someone, but not being able to do it. All the same, I wish Merthin had ended up with Elizabeth. I like her a lot more than I like Caris, even if I don't share many readers' opinion that Caris is terribly annoying and unlikable."
07/30/2012 page 478
47.0% "Caris seems like an anachronism in this book. With the recent medical stuff ("I'm going to take over for Mattie!" revelation) and then the feminist attitude toward marriage... well, I agree with her, but I feel like her perspective is not one I should be encountering in Medieval Europe. Maybe some aspects of it, sure, but not all of it together in one character, manifested so strongly throughout the book." 1 comment
07/30/2012 page 504
49.0% "Urg, I hate Godwyn so much! I like the idea of Caris pursuing healing & Merthin escaping to Florence to learn more & use his considerable talents without facing the obstructions of the priory's corruption; nevertheless, they deserve happiness and I hate the injustice & ignorance at the foundation of the trial. But all of that conflict is part of what makes a book good and I trust that Follett will make things right."
07/31/2012 page 679
66.0% "I hope Merthin falls for Bessie. I can't help it--I like her far more than Caris and feel that she'd make a better mother for Lolla. Also, obviously, I have a growing list of characters who should die of the plague to drastically increase this book's awesomeness (which is already high, despite Follett's habit of telling instead of showing)."
08/01/2012 page 869
85.0% "My dislike of Caris grows with almost every new page that features her."
08/01/2012 page 941
92.0% "I hate how "so-and-so sneezed" (given its own separate line for emphasis, of course) always means "so-and-so is about to come down with the plague" in this book. I sneeze all the time, but that doesn't mean I have the plague. Yet a sneeze in Follett's world is never just a sneeze.
OK, rant over. Time to return to being glued to the story." 1 comment

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