One of the books I finished recently (and unexpectedly) was Ken Follet’s “Fall of Giants.”
I’ve had this book sitting around for over a year—I’d purchased it because I’d caught wind of a rumor that Ken Follet was coming to town and if I bought it brand-spanking new from a particular book store, I’d be able to have him sign it. Naturally because I love his writing in “The Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End,” I ran to the local book store and bought my copy. My coworker and I went to the signing and listened to him talk for an hour and a half. It was a great experience—he’s funny, charming, and very intelligent. Has interesting methods. Is generally humble about his success lately. I managed to snap a few blurry pictures and mumble a garbled ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m a big fan’ and hightailed it out of there.
And then I didn’t actually get around to reading this book until this month, over a year later.
Overall, “Fall of Giants” follows quite a few members of a few different families in Europe and Russia. We’ve got Billy Twice and his sister Ethel Williams from the Welsh town Aberowen, Earl Fitzherbert and his sister Maud, Walter and Robert von Ulrich from Germany, and Grigori and Lev Peshkov from Russia. The novel opens in 1911 and progresses forward as Europe inevitably leans towards war. Once the war breaks out and many of the characters find themselves off fighting, we see the effects that it has on relationships and the countries themselves. Romances rise and fall, and Germany sees its hopes dashed as the tide turns against them, until it ends in roughly 1919.
While amount of research that went into this novel is evident, I found it a little distracting from the story. Or perhaps I couldn’t find it in me to become as involved with the story, as there were many long passages talking about the war and the the politics of it all. Unlike “Pillars,” this novel was very much rooted firmly in history without as much authorial liberty as I felt was present in the former novel. I realize they’re unrelated, but I suppose I found myself wanting a grand, sweeping, epic story of love and life as was evident in both “Pillars” and “World Without End.”
I was less invested here; perhaps Follett spent less time developing them fully since there were more main characters to follow. I’m not sure. Perhaps he got distracted with all the history and background information that needed to be put in so we would understand the characters’ places in the war. I’m not sure.
Either way, while it was an enjoyable and fairly easy read, I didn’t find myself moved to tears very often as his work has done to me in the past. And when it was over, I didn’t feel the burning need to find out what else happened in their lives. Unlike his other novels, this story is a little more forgettable. It’s readable and enjoyable, but not something I would rush out to buy. His writing is solid, but keep in mind that this is no beach read.
Buy/Borrow & Read/Skim/Skip